Ever lock arms with another person? Some do it for enjoyment and a laugh. We call them square dancers. Some draw their strength by locking arms on the field of competition. We call them rugby players. The concept of locking arms is uniquely human and we draw strength from each other for enjoyment, for competition and for our very survival.
I believe we are truly at a cultural and political crossroads in our country. I wonder what anthropologists and historians will say about us in 100 years. Will they celebrate our success or lament our decline? What is great about America is that we are a massive country based upon a collection of individuals, unlike most of the rest of the world where the individual is guided by the current or historical vestiges of kings and other autocratic leaders. Although it would be silly to suggest that we are moving as a group towards a renewal of kingdoms, we seem intrigued by the idea of defining our compassion by having the kingdom do more and the individual do less. If my little voice in the woods can accomplish anything, I hope we can understand that we simply need to square dance and play rugby.
Alexis de Tocqueville lived a European experience and saw the struggle of individuals trying to shake off the monarchs. He bore witness to the American experience and began publishing “Democracy in America” in 1835. He discovered a people who were constantly associating with others for the benefit of others. Having parents who narrowly escaped the guillotine, he saw parallels in the French who locked arms to overthrow their government and Americans who locked arms to associate and cure the ills within their society. By virtue of the fact that they lived on farms and frontiers, the Americans were an independent people, not reliant on a centralized authority because…well… they couldn’t. A caretaker government didn’t exist, so therefore the population locked arms to survive.
Today, in restaurants, clubs, basements and church halls, small bands of service organizations meet every hour of every day. I have been on a speaking tour of rotary clubs and remain amazed at the influence started by four men, led by Paul Harris in Chicago, over lunch, who wanted to raise money for public toilets. Today, by organizing world wide in very small groups, they have brought peace and understanding to the globe and nearly eradicated polio. Four men locking arms have showed a planet how to do so.
In September, I had the privilege of locking arms with 55 colleagues from Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey to sit privately with 18 members of congress. As members of the Philadelphia and Chester County Chambers of Commerce, we discussed our view with twelve members of the House and six Senators. We went to D.C. to represent thousands of small businesses and their employees to hear how Washington plans to either use a centralized approach to fix the economy or how Washington will inspire individuals to lock arms. If I approached the Capitol alone, I don’t think I would have gotten past the gift shop. But together, with the Chamber, we were able to have our voices heard and caution our representatives not to repeat the follies of the past or our members would lock arms and vote them out of office.
I long for the days of square dancing and rugby. If we can simply take a lesson from them, I am confident that better days are ahead.