March 20, 2010

Are We A People?

There comes a time in our lives when we must decide what group of people we will choose to bond with. In our lives we have found true communities, where shared sacrifices, hardships, and celebrations make members of the group feel attached to one another. Yet we cannot always remain in these small communities. We often must move to find work or to start a family.

This temporary nature of many of our local communities forces us to choose a larger group to call our own, and to identify with.

But no matter how well we regard a larger group -- be it a national church, a region and its culture, a professional organization, a community of ideas -- we still long for the closeness of a group that attaches to our heart strings. Strings tied by shared experience.

And there is one broad group most Americans feel attached to.


This health care question asks who we care for, and it is not a simple question. Few would stand by and let members of their long-time church, extended family, or lifelong friends die from lack of modest, small charity. Few would let a coworker they have known and worked with for decades die from the lack of modest, small charity. We expect most people we know or know of to have insurance, but when we find that someone, even someone out in a broader community, suffers significant misfortune, most people would like to help at least some. We routinely work together or make small donations to save members of communities we identify with, and sometimes that community is as wide as (or wider than) America itself.


This health care debate revolves silently around this deeper issue.

The question we all face is what community we will belong to on the level of the heart. Will it be exclusive -- limited to people we know or to local communities -- or does our community of care have room for the whole of America?

Could America itself be a true community -- a community of deep bonds?

America is on the cusp of something new. We have been a nation of diverse communities that sometimes work together when great need arises. But...there is something more than only this. Something brings a tear to our eyes sometimes when we sing our anthem and gaze on our flag. "...the rockets' red glare...gave proof through the night..."

Our country has become more than simply an association of diverse people.

Generations of Americans have bled for one another, have fought and died together, have rescued one another from great catastrophes, have struggled together for centuries as a people for freedom and for our common posterity....

"We the Order to form a more perfect Union...promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity..."

This broad land called America, which has provided the conditions for most of what is good in our lives -- the roads, the law, the schools, the relative safety, the hard-won freedoms -- is this broad country of people a true community of the heart and spirit?

Are all American people our people?

Have we begun to bond together as closely as a nation like Holland or Germany -- where people favor social safety nets because they see themselves as one people? (Social safety nets leave plenty of room and work for charities. In fact, they complement charities by providing a backstop that handles certain needs that can overwhelm charities. For a look at what we owe our fellow citizens in a free market democracy see this post.)

This is the hidden, real question underneath this great health care debate, and it will continue even after this first-step of health care reform is enacted.

Has America become a people finally, like the Swiss or the Dutch or the German peoples?

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