Monday, April 2, 2012 | 2:03 a.m.
Last week, we asked you if you thought civility was possible in civic life, given the rough tone we’ve seen recently. The discussion that ensued was great, and we published a sampling of your letters Sunday. You can see comments on the original letter.
After we wrote that letter, we saw a blog post by Rich Harwood, an authority on American civic life, outlining a study due out in June that touches on some of the things you wrote about. Harwood always has an interesting perspective. He’s the president of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation and has spent decades studying American communities and people’s attitudes, trying to find ways to get people engaged in civic life.
In his post last week, Harwood briefly explains what he sees, which is a long decline of public participation in civic affairs. Why? Essentially, people gave up after failing to see things change. It’s not just that they gave up, but also that they feel further isolated in the process.
By the middle of the last decade, Harwood writes, Americans “had retreated after long feeling disconnected, pushed out, and impotent in their communities.” He said people didn’t see a way to change things in the country and thus decided “to try and hold onto — to protect — whatever gains they had made in their lives. So they hunkered down.”
Then the Great Recession came along, and “people felt their entire lives were upended and the American dream had turned into a nightmare where rigged-rules for the wealthy and powerful won out.”
Now, Harwood says, the feelings have deepened and Americans feel alone.
“There are virtually no leaders and organizations they trust; even more, there are few people around them — including family and friends — who they feel they can rely on,” Harwood writes.
He adds that the focus has changed from “‘politics, news media, and various institutions’ to questions about people, their lives, and a sense of where they fit in the world.”
In other words, it sounds as if people are less focused on what’s going on outside the walls of their homes.
The result of all of this is a dilemma because, he said, “people know they cannot go it alone moving forward — either to improve their own lives, or the life of the nation.”
As we’re thinking through this, we want to know what you think. There certainly is a loss of trust in government and major institutions — the polls show that. And it would make sense that people hunkered down, at least financially, during a recession. But have people retreated? Are they feeling alone?
We would think a better economy would be a cure, but Harwood says that despite signs of improvement in the economy, people’s feelings haven’t change for the better as you might expect. Instead, he said, they’ve deepened.
What do you see in your life? What about in the people around you? Are people still hunkered down? If so, why? What, if anything, would it take to change that?
You can send a letter to the editor to via email or you can send it snail mail (Letters to the editor, Las Vegas Sun, 2360 Corporate Circle, Third Floor, Henderson, NV 89074) or you can fax it to (702) 383-7264.
And Harwood's post, which is well worth reading, is here
We look forward to seeing what you think.
Matt Hufman is the assistant managing editor/opinion.