Even though I am very far away, I have seen and read plenty about the Chick-Fil-A imbroglio, and read some pretty harsh and critical comments about those people supporting it. I do not wish to add my own voice to such criticism, but rather I’d like to look at the controversy in a larger context than has often been the case, so that we can avoid being divided among ourselves for those who long for a better society. It is easy to despair when think of how far we are from where we want to be and where we ought to be, but at the same time in order to be overwhelmed and discouraged we need to know what few small repairs we can make to make life better here and now, even if we have a long way to go.
Let us look at the actions taken in Chick-Fil-A. There was an attempt to violate the free speech rights of a person to use his own money as he saw fit for an unobjectionable moral cause. This heavy-handed attempt at coercion was met with a mobilization of those who agreed with the stand of the owner of the company and to increased business as a choice of fast food restaurant became imbued with a symbolic moral meaning. Who knows how long the increased business will last–perhaps as long as the vocal hostility to its owner lasts. But this particular case is just one example of the sort of political effects of our deeply divided society in the United States. It is certainly not the first, last, or only such example that could be found, but one of the more dramatic.
It is clear that there is a considerable amount of support into doing what is possible to defend those who stand up for what they see is right. The question is, how does this support extend into making meaningful long-term repairs into our society, seeing as we have allowed things to reach a very dangerous point. There is much that needs rebuilding, but focusing on a few elements could make life better in general, and help ease the insecurities that drive many people to hostility. We have a lot of trust that needs to be rebuilt in a lot of areas.
So, let us look at a few areas that could be repaired. First, we need to rebuild social networks in our society, ironic because social networking is something we do so often on the computer. These social networks of friends and family are often rather frayed in our real lives, and we need to work to improve them, so that people do not feel alone. We need to build support networks of encouragement so that people can draw strength and support from others even as they are able to encourage and support others as well as well all engage on the necessary repair work each of us has to do with ourselves. Obviously, some of this support should go to those companies and people who are standing firm in public and facing hostility for so doing.
In addition, we need to rebuild our local communities. There are many ways to do this–getting to know one’s neighbors and participating in community service, especially to help those who are less fortunate, on a regular basis are just a couple of them. Serving the needs and interests of our neighbors is one of the ways that we can build trust with and show love for others. Given the state of isolation and mistrust and skepticism, we need all of the goodwill we can find in our larger society. And we cannot begin to rebuild our states, our nations, and our civilization as a whole until we start with ourselves, with our families, and with our local communities, where the rot began.
All too often our impatience at solving the larger problems of this world prevent us from doing what we can on a small scale. We fret and worry that there is not enough time to repair the damage of a few generations of folly and rebellion against wise principles of living. But just as it took a lot of time to reach this point, it will also take a lot of time to reach a better future where we can overcome our present failings without simply reverting to past ones. And while there is time, we need the practice to build up our own competence in serving and helping others, which needs to be learned in small ways before it can be applied to larger jobs. In addition, the larger problems of our society and our civilization are best tackled from the bottom up and from the inside out, because rebuilding our social infrastructure, including trust and the moral behavior of businesses and consumers, reduces both the need and appeal for ruinous fiscal policies and intrusive government regulations. But it takes work, work that is going to last decades, generations even, if we have that much time to do it.
If we want a better world for ourselves, for our children, and for our grandchildren, no one else is going to make it for us. Our leaders of business and government are not thinking and planning and working for the long term. They simply want the next quarterly results to be good to help out their stock price, or to get elected again, and they will say and do anything to meet those short term expediencies. No, if there is going to be genuine moral reform in our societies, we must do it ourselves. And since our power and reach are small and since we are not yet very wise or skilled, we need to start small–with ourselves and those directly around us–and work our way up, paying our dues along the way. It is short-term thinking and a lack of concern for others that got us in our mess, and it will take long-term effort and planning and a great deal of love and respect and concern for others (including plenty of people that will not be immediately trusting) for us to get out of this mess. Hopefully there is enough time and enough willingness to do what needs to be done from the ground up to repair what is broken down in ourselves, in our families, in our social institutions, in our communities, and in our land.