It seems like every night and possibly all day long the media offers us constant reminder of the multiple splits in our nation. While of course it is necessary to recognize and support populations who are or have been mistreated or neglected or ignored, there is a danger in doing this that we become less a nation and more a collection of hordes espousing their special interests. There are many different explanations as to why we have become such a fractious nation. As a psychoanalyst, however, I have come to appreciate how much conflict results from such “splits”; essentially a non-mingling of multiple often contradictory dreams, impulses, ideas and fantasies. It seems to me that something quite similar is going on in America. Even though in our daily lives we do actually interact with each other, most the time it’s a matter sliding by each other metaphorically and physically on the way to get a Starbucks.
There is rarely real interaction among very diverse parts of our population and very little that pertains to any joint enterprise. However, we know that people care about things they feel and do together in common for the good of all.
It seems to me that it’s time to revisit something like the old Vista program; e.g. a domestic service corps on a mandatory basis for all American teenagers. This experience would pay obvious dividends in improving communities in need, but more importantly, would restore a sense of a shared future and a shared country. During the year of service, young people might be exposed to multiple possible career paths so that when they emerge from the program, they would feel clearer about what career paths they might wish to explore.
To help lessen the financial burden, I would suggest that perhaps each participant be paid minimum wage; perhaps doing an additional year could be rewarded with scholarship money to pursue higher education or specific career training options. Those who would prefer to participate in the military could be excused from their service requirement.
Pres. Kennedy said it best: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” The bottom line is we can’t care about or be civil with each other unless we understand that we are really on the same team. It is time to consider initiating such a program. Such a nationwide experience would support deserved national pride while binding us together as ordinary citizens, one to another, working for our common good.
I’d be interested in hearing comments from others in this regard.