Terrorism, suffocating debt, declining income, political polarization and even extreme weather have grabbed hold of the American psyche for more than a decade.
Ten years. That is a long time to twist and turn with such trauma. It is no wonder Americans are angry and impatient.
After Tuesday, if the polls are correct, half of the country will celebrate. The other half will be unhappy. Billions of dollars will have been spent making sure that for months ahead, the winners and losers will find little in common.
That’s not a recipe for peace, let alone prosperity.
The story in Akron
Since late 2007, the Beacon Journal has sponsored more than 30 focus groups to hear what people are thinking and feeling.
In the 2007 sessions, regular folks wondered if the America Dream was dying. Six years had passed since the 2001-02 recession, but household incomes and jobs had yet to recover.
Then came 2008. The crash.
This year when the Beacon Journal called for volunteers to participate in focus groups titled “I’m mad as hell,” there was no problem finding participants. Everyone had a bad personal experience. Their stresses were palpable. Our collective engine was running hot.
There was a poll, too. Asked who they blame for the tension, people in this area named elected leaders who are failing to solve problems and the media for enabling bad behavior.
Who didn’t they blame? The poll showed that people placed themselves very low on the list of guilty parties.
Really? Regular folks don’t think they have responsibility?
There are people in the Akron area and beyond who know that this community has a tradition of owning its faults and taking the initiative to rectify them. They believe something good is in the works here.
Public meetings about the anger and fear already have begun, and those who attended said that if leaders and media are to change, regular folks must demand it. Otherwise, the bad behavior is enabled.
And they’ve begun to recognize their power.
In the “Mad as hell” focus groups, people admitted they were angry and exasperated, and they came ready to fight with people of other beliefs. However, as facilitator Alice Rodgers led them through potentially divisive discussions, they often were surprised at how respectful the conversation was, and, more importantly, they often found areas of agreement.
While people expressed concern about the polarization and incivility, they really wanted resolution.
The civility challenge
For more than a year, the Beacon Journal, three universities led by the University of Akron’s Bliss Institute of Applied Politics and leaders in the community have been exploring the causes of the incivility and ways to end it.
People with wide-ranging experiences and emotions have been profiled in the newspaper’s America Today series. The university has studied methods for helping people to bridge differences. Leaders have been discussing the lack of civility in the community.
This group of pastors, leaders, academics and journalists also wants to take action. They have framed a civility pledge for the community.
You are challenged to take that pledge.
Here it is:
I know that I can play a role in addressing the polarization that divides people.
In the coming year, I will use the community civility standards to talk with a person whose views are different than mine, seek an issue on which we agree and then take action on that issue together.
Accompanying this story is a coupon accepting the challenge. It can be clipped and mailed to the Beacon Journal. Names of those who respond by Thanksgiving will be published in the Beacon Journal in early December. Those that come later will be on an updated list on Ohio.com.
Accepting the challenge also can be done by filling out an online coupon on the Ohio.com Ohio Civility Project page, by joining the challenge on the Akron Beacon Journal Facebook page or by going to the website of one of the partners in the project, The Civic Commons, at http://theciviccommons.com/conversations/the-civility-challenge
Beacon Journal managing editor Doug Oplinger can be reached at 330-996-3750 or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org