Friday, November 18, 2016

Savvy Service Organizations, Not Rhetoric, Will "Make America Great Again"

America's contentious election has us on edge, uncertain about what comes next. One widely acknowledged result of the election acrimony is a palpable post-election sense of "disconnectedness" Americans feel from our elected officials, from our communities, from our neighbors and even from our families.

The divisiveness of our election has many Americans feeling unmoored and adrift; lacking a map, we face an opaque future.

We can solve this feeling of disconnectedness. This post suggests that service--to each other, to our communities, and to our country--can be a compass that helps us navigate these tumultuous times.

Service can reconnect us to our communities, our neighbors, and our families. Leading the way could be civic and social organizations who are present in and already serving our communities. Many of us are familiar with their names and brands: The United Way, Salvation Army, YMCA/YWCA, Goodwill Industries International, American Red Cross, Boys & Girls Clubs of America. With their strong reputations and rich tradition of engaging citizens in service, these organizations can--and should--play vital roles in filling what I call the "affiliation vacuum."

President-elect Trump's simple message to "Make America Great Again" tapped America's historical aspirations for greatness. But when asked what greatness means, many Americans cite what greatness is not than what greatness is.

Our nation's greatness is rooted not in words, but deeds. The cornerstone of our great deeds has been laid through service.

For all America's faults and flaws, we are a nation founded by, and grounded in, service. Service connects us to each other, to our communities and to our country. Service transcends race, creed, color, socioeconomic status, geographic location, sexual orientation, political affiliation. Rich, poor, North, South, Black, White, Gay, Trans, Questioning: Each of can, and many of us do, serve. Those who serve inspire us. Joining them, service unites us. Our service strengthens us.

Since the mid-20th century, coinciding with the establishment and expansion of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, we have grown more reliant--some say dependent--on the government than on each other and our communities.

There's certainly some truth to the saying, the nine words you least want to hear in a sentence are: "We're from the government and we're here to help."

As the government has become more active in "helping us", we have become less active in helping each other. We're less about "giving" and more about "getting", less about helping each other than helping ourselves, less about "serving" and more about "being served." Viewed from that lens, it is painfully obvious why service organizations are competing more aggressively in an increasingly resource constrained environment.

The "affiliation vacuum" is a hole that smart, nimble and innovative service organizations and institutions can fill, leveraging their traditional emphasis on engaging and uniting people to serve others... and responding with specific programs to help us feel more connected to our communities and neighbors.

These organizations and institutions are the architects of rebuilding trust in each other. By providing us tangible opportunities--beyond writing checks--to help others, we can volunteer in these organizations to heal and strengthen our communities.

Robert Ingersoll reflected that "we rise by lifting others." Service that inspires, connects and unites us generates uplifting results and authentic relationships that will help us rise above the current uncertainty.

By involving, influencing and inspiring diverse audiences in the communities they already serve, organizations like The United Way, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, will fill a need among our citizens to feel valued, important, wanted and interconnected.

I too wish for America to be great again, That's why I'm volunteering to serve others in organizations that reflect my personal passions. I encourage readers to do the same. 

Because rhetoric won't "make America great again". Service will.