Super Cities №187 — Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Brendan Hart

Won't you be my neighbor?

What a beautiful, elegant question.

The implications of this question are profound. Neighbors share common concerns. They share physical proximity and the out-in-the-open turbulence of life. They contribute to a natural but powerful collective defense. Their neighborliness transcends faith and political ideology.

Without going all David Brooks on you, I believe that much of what ills American society traces back to the breakdown of civic structure. Technology is probably an accelerant but is almost certainly not the cause.

Fewer people, especially young people, belong to common community-based organizations.

According to Pew, across twenty-five different countries, people who are active in religious congregations – of any faith – are happier than their unaffiliated or affiliated-but-inactive peers.

In America, most people of faith -- nearly-7-out-of-10 people -- self-identify as Christian. Between 2007-2014, that number fell 7%. Over the same period, the percentage of Americans who identify as unaffiliated has increased by nearly one-third.

In other words, if the Pew research is accurate, the number of happy Americans decreased by nearly 15% between 2007 - 2014.

But this issue is not only faith-based.

The number of American who serve in the military is now about 7%, a two-thirds drop from 1980.

In a time of perpetual conflict, this division has caused multi-dimensional social separation: between those who serve and those who do not; and, for those who do not serve, over whether or not to send someone else's kids to war.

One community can quickly turn into three camps.

Although they largely inherited this mess from their parents, it is no surprise that seventy-percent of American teens cite mental health as their top concern.

I'm undoubtedly biased, but when people don't grow together, learn together, pray together or fight together, how are they supposed to "come together" as members of a community?

One answer is that those teens – and all of us – need more neighbors, fewer "friends," and fewer "likes."

That's a powerful place to start.

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