Road to DC: Sacramento, CA —
Our first stop of the Pop the Bubble Conversation Tour. Hosts Kate Karpillow and Steve Sanders brought together six young professionals working on various social issues ranging from education to the environment to local sex trafficking. Five were Latino, one who immigrated when she was five. Another came to this country ten years ago from Nairobi, and now works for an assemblyman in the state capital.
When asked how they were feeling about the current state of our union, “angry” and “fearful” were common responses, but so were were statements of hope and optimism, underscored by a sense of personal responsibility. Some quotes:
“I’m hoping to get to the place where I can say that I’m hopeful. But I’m also excited… because I’ve been forced to ask myself a lot of questions, and I’ve also seen other people ask more questions than they’ve ever asked in their lives. So I’m hopeful, but I haven’t yet seen what those questions are going to bring those people to next…how it will translate to action.”
“I used to say it would have been nice to live in the 60s because of all the political activism, and I think now the pendulum has swung, where we might see that level of activism now.”
“This election has made me very courageous. The day of the election I had so much fear, but then I realized no, I’m going to take that fear off myself, and one of the things I’m going to do is continue to bet on myself. Be a better leader, a better person.”
At one point in the conversation we proposed that one thing most liberals and conservatives can agree on is that the system is broken. We may disagree in how and why, but we share the sense that things are not working as they should.
I introduced the model of an iceberg. At the tip, above the surface, we put all the signs that things are not working. We then looked deeper below the surface, at the context out of which these problems arise. That context we labeled “culture,”and explored what it is about our culture that produces these kinds of problems.
Excessive individualism was one answer.
“We’ve forgotten that embedded in our culture is a communitarian impulse…it’s ‘we the people’ not ‘a bunch of us guys.’ We’ve lost the idea that there are dualities, and mutual responsibilities.”
“We’ve lost the notion that individual liberty within commonwealth is what works. We’ve lost the common wealth.”
Excessive materialism was another factor.
“You read the NY Times Magazine on Sunday and it’s about poverty, and then you look at the ads and it’s about $10,000 diamond bracelets. It’s just such a weird disconnect.”
We then introduced the idea from cultural anthropology—that all cultures rest on a story that answers three questions: Who am I, why am I here, and what am I to do. I asked how they thought our culture answered those questions. Said one:
“When I think of the American story I think that who we are is the ‘I’, (separate from others).Why am I here? To work hard. What am I to do? Be successful…but at the expense of my mental health, at the expense of my physical health, at the expense of my community, and at the expense of my resources.”
And finally this comment:
“I think the answer to those questions has to do with how we understand what it means to be successful, to have an impact. I’m thinking back to a birthday party I just went to. A Korean/American first year birthday party. And they laid out this blanket of gifts for this one-year-old child, each symbolizing his possible future. The grandparents said “take the money!” The mom, who’s very materialistic, said “take the camera, be a movie star” and then I’m standing there with my own preconceptions of what success means and I’m saying “take the book, take the book!” This idea of what do we do, who we are, our impact, is determined by our culture.”