The Need to Connect

A few days ago, I was reading an interesting article entitled Separated at Birth in which the author seeks out adults who were born on the same day in the same hospital as he was in 1949. He describes a variety of common themes that he has with his fellow baby boom generation members, but one particular quote from one of his birth mates struck a chord. He suggested that the reason the author, Daniel Asa Rose, was on this quest was that,

You’re interested in what connects Homo sapiens. You grasp the plain, astronomical truth that we’re on a microscopic pebble hurtling through space at sixty-seven thousand miles an hour–and in a very real sense, connecting with one another is the only thing that matters.

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Since November’s election, I have received daily inquiries about how to respond. My usual quick response is to advise people to act locally and give hugs. While this may seem simple, what I am really suggesting is that the more we connect with each other, the harder it will be for those who seek to divide and conquer us to succeed.

Ever since he started his campaign, and throughout his first few months in office, the President has utilized classic demagoguery to disconnect us from each other. He and his allies actively encourage hatred, arrest and deportation of those who do not look like him. That is why so many of us have such an unsettled feeling. Since a healthy society requires that people connect with each other, living under the leadership of an administration that seeks to destroy that state of connection raises our anxiety level to unprecedented societal heights.

While I support those who seek to change the leadership in Washington, this task truly starts by digging deep community building roots at the local level. For me, it includes;

  • making eye contact as I walk down the street, thereby acknowledging the humanity of every stranger I encounter;
  • living in a neighborhood with sidewalks where neighbors and strangers regularly encounter each other on a daily basis;
  • mentoring youth who face daily struggles with poverty and discrimination;
  • supporting those released from incarceration to succeed upon entering our community;
  • leading my religious community in a manner that helps our community connect with disenfranchised communities in order to combat racism and xenophobia;
  • providing support to friends and family both near and far to maintain connections and offer help when needed;
  • leading a local lake district to work together to protect the environment;
  • engaging in genuine dialogue to build consensus to solve problems rather than sow divisiveness; and
  • providing unique legal and consulting services to disenfranchised clients who likely would not find the help they need elsewhere.

These paths of connection are simply the ones that I choose. Everyone can choose their own path to connect with friends, family, neighbors and strangers, but connect we must. Through a web of connection, we can build hope. Failure to do so will allow demagoguery to prevail.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

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Building Community: Now more than ever

Like many people around the world, the election of an American President who has actively engaged in and encouraged racism, sexism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia, frightens me. It reminds me of why I never bank on electoral politics to provide the solutions to our nation’s and our world’s problems. Of course, I vote, but in the end of the day, I only have one vote, and in this particular instance, even when the candidate I favored won a majority of the popular vote, our political system nevertheless gave the Presidency to her opponent.

I have spent my entire professional career working for progressive systems change. This election does not alter that. In fact, it will only cause me to work harder on behalf of the disenfranchised people I represent. A former colleague once called me a “good loser.” At first I did not understand that she was giving me a compliment. Then, she explained, that I never give up even after losing a hard fought battle. I simply examine the new situation for the best way forward and get back to working on making our world a better place. That is what we all must do right now.

Starting last night, many people have asked me what they can do in response to America electing perhaps the scariest President in its history. My sister-in-law just called me in tears. The vast majority of our nation was targeted by our President-elect, including women, people of color, Muslims, Jews, Mexicans, and people with disabilities, as somehow less worthy. But we know better. We also know that, now more than ever, we need each other, and together we can still accomplish great things.

So, here are a few suggestions (with underlined links to prior posts for more detail):

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So, today, give hugs to friends and family. Tomorrow, start looking for local projects that you can dive into to make your local community a better place. Together we can build community and create a better world for everyone.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

In Praise of Sidewalks in my Neighborhood

My wife & I have lived in the same wonderful Tenney Park neighborhood in Madison, Wisconsin,  for 29 years, and in the same house on a one block street for the past 23 years. Located just a couple of miles from the University of Wisconsin campus and downtown, many of my neighbors commute to their jobs by walking, biking or taking the bus.

As our son prepares to leave home for college, and my wife and I contemplate the next stage of our life, we often reflect on the special nature of our neighborhood. A couple of nights ago, on a beautiful evening, we decided to walk to a local restaurant about a mile away for dinner. The walk was lovely, but what made it extra special was that every few hundred yards, we stopped to engage in conversation with neighbors, who are also our friends, who were also out walking. This was not mere chance. Our neighborhood helps to form a cohesive and friendly community, in no small part, because of its sidewalks.

Sidewalks help build community because they create good places for interaction. A good resource for creating good places for interaction is the Community Tool Boxout of the University of Kansas. As they explain:

Good places for interaction are places where people – often from many parts of the community and/or diverse backgrounds – meet naturally and interact comfortably and often pleasurably because of the nature or attraction of the space and/or the activities associated with it.

While sidewalks are only one of many ways that good communities are built, they are invaluable as an easy and casual way for neighbors to interact and naturally get to know each other. The Community Tool Box goes on to list 11 great reasons to create good places for interaction. They can:

  • help to develop a sense of community pride and ownership.
  • help build a true sense of community among people of diverse origins, backgrounds, and points of view.
  • make the community a more pleasant place to live because more people have contact with one another.
  • increase the general enjoyment of life in the community.
  • increase safety and security.
  • improve the livability of neighborhoods.
  • promote individuals’ understanding of one another’s culture and humanity.
  • provide a forum for the exchange of ideas.
  • They can increase equity.
  • They can increase social capital, particularly bridging social capital.
  • They can expand children’s horizons through interactions with people who have different assumptions and expectations. Some time ago, I wrote about our neighbor’s Giving Tree across from our house which exemplifies the importance of this point. Here are some neighborhood children playing on that tree. IMG_1529

Of course, there are many other places for good social interaction, including parks and plazas, but sidewalks are critical as they allow for easy access for neighbors to meet and greet each other on a regular basis, thereby building friendships and community. In just one walk to dinner, my wife and I were able to check in with 7 neighbors (and some of their dogs), who have become our friends by being such good neighbors. Neighborhoods with sidewalks should relish and maintain them. Neighborhoods without sidewalks should strongly consider building them to build better and stronger communities.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.