I recently started reading the book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. It’s a book that I bought when I got my tax return because Turbo Tax offered an additional 10% of any amount of my return I took in Amazon Gift Cards. I don’t remember for sure, but I think I bought it because of the teacher association. In attending the Leadership Summit and Delegate Assembly, I realized that so much of what people do is in search of connection nowadays.
There is something that Arizona is getting a fair amount of national attention for doing well in the field of education… that thing is called eSwag. I don’t remember what it stands for (Educators Standing With… I don’t know; look it up), but it’s basically a mechanism for engaging and retaining educators under the age of 35. I didn’t join it because I’m too cool for it (and church groups for singles). I also didn’t join because I felt like I had enough on my plate with all of the normal baloney sandwich mess of being the secretary of my local. However, I was able to observe the eSwag-ers from a distance and gain a fairly clear picture of what was going on there. Turns out, Arizona has managed to gain positive national attention for throwing ridiculous parties that get forcibly moved from one hotel room to another, to another, to the hotel bar where the cheapskates didn’t even order anything because they brought their own libations… no joke, that’s what eSwag did at Delegate Assembly.
I was hugely disappointed to discover this because I wanted to see the association engaging young teachers by bringing them a bit deeper into the profession. I wanted to see mentor programs where veteran teachers partnered with new teachers to show them how it’s done. I wanted to see people getting to know one another and truly caring. I wanted to see my generation of the extended adolescence… well… growing out of our adolescences.
With eSwag turning out to be a series of keggers… and let’s be honest: I’m obsessing right now about the correct spelling of kegger because I’m the type who voluntarily took an extra linguistics class heavy on the sentence-diagramming in college when I could have been out partying. I became a teacher because I believe learning is more important than fun is… most of the time. Why the hell did they think I would enjoy staying up late, getting drunk, and talking to people I didn’t know? Okay, so they assumed that because that’s obviously what most folks under 35 want.
That all being in the background, I started reading Bowling Alone because I wanted to get a handle on this longing we under 35s (and really everyone of every age) have for community.
I say longing because I think it’s the best descriptor here. I honestly think we’re caught up in a mess of disconnect and probably spend a fair amount of time distracting ourselves from the fact that we don’t have community and don’t know how to get it. We long for community, and chase after it with enthusiasm and abandon, but we never quite achieve the type of community we think we will. We never quite get there.
Building and engaging community are catch-phrases in the church nowadays, and I need to get better about ignoring or possibly even encouraging folks who have jumped on-board the trendy-train of abandon-tradition-because-it’s-keeping-us-from-engaging-for-real-!-All-Christians-are-faking-it-!-They-don’t-care-about-people-! but trendy things become trendy for a reason, and there’s something that’s causing the teacher association and the church to track with one another in a thrust toward community.
The book said something interesting. Now, granted, I’m only on the second chapter so far, and it isn’t exactly light reading, so I’ll probably be reading the thing for the next two or three years, but I’ve got one pearl to share with you right now.
Trustworthiness lubricates social life.
I thought this book was going to lay the blame on social networking. However, right out of the gates, our author Robert D. Putnam brings it down to an incredibly basic level. Younger generations trust less. I’ve read things about this, and it seems to come up in tons of those generation descriptions. There’s always mention of the skepticism that comes with living in an age when we’re inundated with ads. There’s talk of the mass public shootings and how that makes us wonder if our neighbor is building a massive collection of killing devices in his parents’ garage. So maybe we have good reason to mistrust.
I’d never considered that trust might have any role in keeping us from feeling connected to other human beings? What if that’s the reason the teachers under 35 can’t make friends without destroying their livers? What if, at the most basic level, human beings are beginning to believe their fellow-men want to screw them over?
It’s a sad thought, right? Maybe I should’ve waited to write this until I’ve finished the book. Maybe Robert D. Putnam has some answers, some idea of what we can do to fix this mess. All I can think of is to commit ourselves to individually and collectively becoming trustworthy…