Issues & Insights

5 Ways To Make Civil Society A Reality

With each election comes new pronouncements of it being the most important election of our lifetime. The 2020 election is poised to receive the same dire forecast by pundits, pastors, and politicians, alike. Impeachment hearings are looming, the Middle East burns (again), and productive discourse is nearly impossible. Ellen can’t even sit next to President Bush at a Cowboys’ game without receiving substantial criticism. 

For the past decade, identity politics and tribalism have moved from the fringe to becoming a mainstream reality and an unfortunate staple in our political and social interactions. Something needs to change.

But this change won’t come on the wings of Airforce One or from newly discovered “rights” championed by Democratic presidential candidates. It’s found in Americans; everyday, ordinary Americans doing the extraordinary work of meeting the needs of their neighbors, lifting up their communities, and speaking up for those that can’t speak for themselves. 

Your community needs you more than it needs another costly and inefficient government program. They need a neighbor, not a bureaucrat. A person with real skin in the game.

But where does someone even begin to translate these ideas into meaningful action? Here are some amazing things that you can do to bolster civil society in your own neck of the woods, regardless of what’s going on in politics. 

Break bread together.

Make a meal for the family that just had a baby. Take the new coworker out to lunch and get to know him. Have a few friends over for coffee. If you’re fatigued by the incivility in society, be part of the change. You can take a colleague you disagree with out for a drink…and simply listen to them. You might not be able to thwart a politically induced famine in Africa or give Venezuelans food security, but you can reach out to someone in your community and offer them a seat at your table.

Invest like a localist.

Volunteerism has steadily declined over the past decade, yet a recent survey found that over 60 percent of millennials and Gen Z greatly value community involvement. They also place a high premium on purchasing products that reflect or uphold their values. In light of this dichotomy between reduced volunteerism and values-based consumerism, it’s important to consider ways in which we can rethink localism for today. It might involve some sweat equity, like volunteering with Habitat for Humanity on a Saturday morning, but it will also include leveraging technology and our increased social consciousness to bring about good for those in our own backyard. 

Not only is community involvement good for others; it’s good for you. There is something powerful about stepping outside of oneself, setting aside personal concerns and worries for a bit, and coming alongside others who are struggling. 

Dwell with your neighbors. 

In a time when many are put off by the idea of knocking on a neighbor’s door to introduce themselves, cultivating community among those on your street or in your apartment complex can seem incredibly daunting. And if you feel this way, you’re not alone. In fact, many people actively avoid their neighbors as much as possible, according to a City Observatory report, which found that almost 30 percent of Americans don’t interact with their neighbors at all. We think that’s unfortunate. 

By capitalizing on our physical proximity to those in our neighborhood, we are positioned to offer the lonely a sense of belonging in a way that their relatives thousands of miles away can’t. Unfortunately, this dearth in neighborliness highlights a broader problem we’re experiencing, which is a deficit in social capital. 

Become a venture (social) capitalist.

Social capital is defined as the “intangible, invisible resources and assets that emerge from our social interactions and relationships,” such as “norms, trust, reputation, goodwill.” It is the voluntary exchange of trust, kindness, and love with those around you. If left unchecked, the government can diminish social capital’s potency by crowding out institutions that make communities strong and families healthy. As author Jonah Goldberg once put it, “The government can’t love you.” But you know who can love you (and who you can love back)? Your family and friends. 

The polis is comprised of “little platoons:” communities, families, and individuals. They are the stakeholders in this great American experiment and are deserving of our greatest investment. Cultivating social capital aims to facilitate that. 

The best place to begin investing is at home. We realize that not everyone comes from a traditional nuclear family, however, the resilience and strength that a family can offer are invaluable. It is one private institution that we as a society should publicly acknowledge as a starting point for building social capital.

In the concentric circles of social capital, just beyond the family are friends. Surround yourself with people that want the best for you and whom you can mutually investment into one another’s lives.

Make a daily impact

If we want to improve the quality of life in our communities, help people that are facing real crises of despair, and empower individuals to take control of their lives, we’ll move beyond Election Day outcomes and into the messiness that comes with “doing life” together. 

The way we vote on Election Day won’t make nearly as much of an impact as the daily investments of labor and love we pour into the lives of others.

Doug McCullough is director of Lone Star Policy Institute. Brooke Medina is director of communications at Civitas Institute.

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