Murch: Are we really that disconnected?
Former Washington Post and syndicated columnist David Broder died a little over two years ago in March 2011. One of his favorite places was Beaver Island, where he vacationed every year beginning in the mid-20th century.
His family recently released a book of his columns – “The Beaver Island Columns” – that either focus on or mention Beaver Island, or were written on the island when he was there. Proceeds from the book benefit Beaver Island Rural Health Center. Covering Washington politics, Broder would either write about the politics and use Beaver Island as a reference, or he would write about life on Beaver Island. There are 33 columns in the book.
French novelist Alphonse Karr wrote (editor’s note, French will not translate in online program) “Plus a change, plus c’est la mme chose.” which translates into “More that changes, more it is the same thing.” It has pretty much evolved into “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
It’s a saying we hear quiet regularly, but if you want any more proof of that, the first column in Broder’s book points it out vividly. The column, A Sense of Community, was written in 1970 and starts off about back-to-school time on the island. In it, there are two quotes that bring it all together.
The first is a quote by then-Sen. Edmund Muskie of Maine, “Every American I have met wants this to be a whole country and one with a place for him and his family. The difficulty is we have grown so far apart, in every way, that what one man does to secure a place for himself strikes another as a threat to his own place – and so fear and distrust undermine the sense of wholeness that keeps us secure.”
The second reference is a quote he uses from Alexis de Toqueville. Chances are most people have no idea who de Toqueville is. He was another Frenchman, this time someone who would be considered a person who studied, wrote about and was an expert in sociology and political science. He also was a politician and wrote “Democracy in America” in the mid 19th century.
The quote of de Toqueville’s that Broder used in the column is “Some times occur in the life of a nation, when the customs of an old people are changed, public morality is destroyed, religious belief shaken, and the spell of tradition broken …” He continues with the quote, but I’ll cut it there.
Broder was writing columns right up to his death and I wonder if he realized that beliefs about our country’s people hadn’t changed in 40 years, or maybe he hadn’t remembered writing about the thought that citizens were developing a disconnect with each other in much of the same way we seem to be today – or at least as we seem to believe we are disconnected today.
And that is the point, I believe -that maybe we perceive our differences more than we actually have differences. The “American Dream” clich is used for way too many things. What the dream really boils down to is to be able to live in a manner that allows us to enjoy a certain way and standard of life.
We hear about the American Dream being about owning a home and the white picket fence, etc. But if that is really the case, then why are our cities growing and now have a greater combined population than rural areas for the first time in our nation’s history? Some of it is economy driven, but some of it stems from wanting to be around like-minded people and experience life in the same manner as those people.
So are we really that different and disconnected?
If we watch the news and listen to the talking heads and buy into the rhetoric, then yes we are. But if we look around at our neighbors and see that we attend the same events and like the same things and hope for the same things – the same dreams – then no, we aren’t that disconnected.
The beauty of our country is we have so many differences, that they make us the same because we hope those differences all drive us to the same goal – happiness and contentment. I’m reminded of those differences being minimal whenever we have a tragedy like the Boston Marathon bombings. The country came together and our resolve grew stronger – or strong again in case we believe it waned a bit.
To me the sights and sounds of the Boston Bruins fans singing the national anthem during the first game after the bombing shows that we are one nation -very different and very much the same.