Well, I just came back from an interview for a principalship in the school district where I have worked for many years. I think I did well, I hope that the committee felt I did as well as I hope I did.
I found a dominant strand, maybe because it was how I chose to frame my answers, during this interview. It was establishing a community. Many times we’re not too good at community. Oh, I smile at my neighbor, and we can pull together maybe for a few moments when a tragedy hits us either as individuals or as groups. However, I think within the day to day living of our lives, Americans are supreme individualists. This is not inherently bad, but I wonder if we do not miss greater meaning to our life by devlopment of a true community, whether it is within our neighborhood, our apartment complex, our schools, churches or places of business.
Two Presidents I feel, have done remarkable jobs at developing a sense of community along a national line. They are two very different individuals, and probably many will deride me for one or perhaps both of these choices. They are Franklin Roosevelt, and our current President George W. Bush.
This is not to open up a comparison of these two men. It is not fair, simply because one can’t really judge the impact a leader has on any setting until quite awhile after they are gone. Howver, FDR must be admired for the sense of community he gave to the nation two times when we were driven to our collective knees, once by the devastation of The Great Depression, and the other at the attacks of the United States by Japan which ushered us into WW2. FDR understood that Americans can be exceptionally good at community, because of the shared ethos our nation had at that time. When he gave his speech concerning lend lease, to get us much closer to a war that didn’t at the time involve vital US interests, he used an analogy of community, of lending a length of hose to a neighbor, whose house was on fire. He had done the same thing on a greater national level by the implementation the policies of The New Deal.
The New Deal was arguably the greatest policy shift in the history of the United States, and many have argued was unconstitutional. Yet, the policies he enacted, did serve our nation well, and have become fully accepted as a part of the American system. Within all of this, The New Deal brought the national calamity to a community level. This served FDR well, and his constant communication to the people that things would get better, even though they were not, show his ability as one of the truly great leaders in our Republic’s history. Roosevelt, truly lifted this nation from of of her knees, and made us realize that together we were greater than any problem that could be forwarded upon us.
The same can be said about President Bush on those days after 9/11. I am reminded of the day he visited the rubble of the WTC, and how it was a dank rainy dark day. I also remember that when he spoke, the sun broke out. A similar event had happened at another place that was marked by those who had paid the ultimate price for the country, and those who died at 9/11 did in fact pay the price for the way of life we in America enjoy. That other place in time was the dedication of a national cemetery in Gettysburg Pennsylvania. When President Lincoln spoke, those few humble words, that are now so ingrained into our national identity, for a moment, the sun broke out from a steel grey sky. Coincidence? Perhaps. At that moment, I believe that he was everyone in this nation’s President. And though substantive arguements can be made from both sides as to why that disappeared, I will confess, I miss that sense of community I felt when as a nation, we had come together, even if it was in our grief.
The basis of community is understanding that things work better when we work together. In a true community, each member gives the best that they can for the betterment of the other. In the end, this betterment raises the individual. Tonight, as I spoke of building a community of learners within a school, I realized, that I was indeed a true believer in this principle. I want to be a leader of a school where people work from their strengths towards the lack of others, towards the betterment of the whole. This idea some will lash out and say is Communism, but I don’t see it as such. St. Paul wouldn’t also, and yes I used or paraphrased his analogy of what community is, by showing that if a part of the body is not faring well, the whole body suffers.
We would be happier, I believe if we took more time to embrace those around us, not just when they are doing well, but particularly when they are suffering. In doing such, we not only save the other, we in reality offer salvation to ourself. Perhaps one of the most profound questions we can ask ourselves, is what am I prepared to do for the betterment of another human being. In the largeness or the smallness of our ability to embrace others, particularly those who we may not be inclined to help, we truly model the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount.
Community surrounds us. It takes courage to look upon the world and those around us with eyes which are determined to see the good and to understand that the only face of God we are likely to see while wrapped in this mortal coil are the faces which surround us everyday.