6.1. Communities in Crisis?

We aren’t as connected as we should be. But there are things we can do to turn that around.

Do you feel like you live in a community?

Do you feel connected to the people around you? Do you feel like you can trust them?

Do you spend a lot of time doing stuff with them—whether just hanging out, or participating together in some joint activity?

When you think about your own personal network of family, friends, acquaintances, co-workers, neighbors, or even total strangers whom you encounter every now and then—does it make you feel safe and supported?

To create real, lasting social change, we need to build strong communities.

And that’s not something a lot of people feel like they belong to, in this day and age.

We feel divided and isolated.

Many people live in single-unit homes, have long, lonely commutes to work, and then return home to their suburban fortresses without saying a word to their neighbors.

We have these different networks—different groups of friends, acquaintances, and co-workers—who know bits and pieces about us, but rarely come together, and rarely get to see or appreciate the full scope of who we are.

Many people would like to get more involved in their communities, would like to connect with more people, and participate in more activities—but struggle to find the time or the money to actually make it happen.

There’s an impressive amount of data that suggests all forms of community involvement—from political, civic, or religious participation to book clubs and bowling leagues and community service—has declined since the 1950s and ‘60s.

A lot of people blame TV and the internet for much of this. You might be surprised to learn that the majority of research—including published studies I’ve conducted myself—shows that spending a lot of time online is actually associated with stronger connections and increased engagement. But TV, a much more passive medium, does seem to have a negative effect.

Some of this decline is probably an unintended consequence of a good thing: greater equality and opportunities for women, people of color, LGBTQ folks, and other groups that were previously marginalized.

Our communities are more diverse than they used to be. And there’s still plenty of racism, sexism, homophobia, and other prejudices getting in the way.

We’re stuck in a horribly heated and divisive political situation, where both sides are increasingly likely to see the other side as dangerous or traitorous, rather than fellow Americans with common goals and interests, with whom we happen to disagree.

And the media, too, exploits our fears and distrust of each other as well.

But there’s good news.

Which is: we already know how to build strong communities.

Furthermore, there’s a good argument to be made that the biggest factor of all in this decline is that the generation that fought in World War 2 was just a freakishly engaged generation—and what we’ve experienced over the past few decades is a return to the norm, rather than a disturbing decline.

So don’t despair.

We aren’t as connected as we should be. But there are things we can do to turn that around. And that’s what this next series of videos will focus on.


This is the 93rd in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.

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