The idea of finding community solutions to big problems is gaining more and more traction. Although there are many similarities among Americans, we live in a vast land that contains diverse communities. America’s educational, health care and social problems, for instance, may have general themes, but each locality is different. One solution does not fit all.
I have attended conferences marketed as championing limited government and proclaiming how states and communities are different. But while there, I’ve often heard various panelists encourage, in a top-down fashion, their solution as applicable to all states and communities. There seemed to be a disconnect between identifying problems and offering solutions.
I wanted to remind one panelist, for instance, that educational laws are not uniform across all 50 states. It is possible to take the best, applicable components from the proven solution in said state, to be sure, and use them for our respective state solutions. That approach was not mentioned, however. The following never seemed to occur to the panelist: One policy size does not fit all states.
Even within a state, one community solution does not fit all. If you have not been hearing about this budding trend, stay tuned. There will be more and more discussions regarding local solutions and community engagement. Such an approach can find supporters across party lines or ideological lines.
One key component, as I see it, is to encourage creativity among private associations and communities — the real thing and not virtual ones — to solve community problems. Community creativity and engagement will help move away from what Alexis de Tocqueville referred to as the potential dangers of a “soft despotism.”
A “soft despotism” has aspects of freedom and some individual choices. Yet the people have limited control. To Tocqueville, this mild form of tyranny “covers the society with a network of small, complicated, minute, and uniform rules, which the most original minds and the most vigorous souls cannot break through to go beyond the crowd.”
In “Democracy in America (Vol. 4),” Tocqueville writes further: “It does not break wills, but it softens them, bends them, and directs them; it rarely forces actions, but it constantly opposes your acting; it does not destroy, it prevents birth; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, it represses, it enervates, it extinguishes, it stupefies, and finally it reduces each nation to being nothing more than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”
What Tocqueville describes can cause creativity to languish. It can also foster an individual’s disengagement from various problems in his or her community.
There are many historical examples of community creativity and engagement to solve bigger problems. This idea is not new.
In North Carolina’s early to mid-1800s, communities had lotteries, essentially raffles, to obtain money for particular local needs. There were raffles for churches, fraternal societies and for building local roads or schools. In some communities, churches started schools to increase the literacy rate in their communities. Christian denominations started orphanages to provide shelter, food and education for parentless children. Quakers formed manumission societies to provide freedom or at least a de facto freedom for slaves (many times state law prevented outright manumission.)
Two fraternal organizations, the Freemasons and the Odd Fellows, have created or supported many community service projects and local charitable causes such as orphanages, Little League Baseball and needed senior programs.
Let’s encourage more creative community solutions to big problems. Let’s also be aware of needs and problems in our communities and encourage community engagement.
A lot of times the answer is not in Washington, D.C. Many times, the answer is not in the state capital. The answers to many of life’s big problems are much closer to home.