News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Bridging our divides

Reading The Nugget’s “Letters to the Editor” I have been struck by the frequency with which people of opposing political viewpoints find it so difficult to disagree without becoming disagreeable.

I fear that the increasingly rancorous tone of our discourse in Sisters Country may damage the fabric of our social trust, defined by the Pew Research Center as: “…a belief in the honesty, integrity and reliability of others — a ‘faith in people.’”

Can’t we have honest disagreements while maintaining a belief in each other’s basic goodness?

Americans across our nation share a concern that our confidence in each other has significantly declined. The Pew Research Center, relying on survey data, concluded last year:

• 79 percent of Americans believe that we have “far too little” or “too little” confidence in each other.

• 70 percent of Americans believe our low trust in each other makes it harder to solve the country’s problems.

• 64 percent of Americans believe that it is “very important” the level of confidence Americans have in each other be improved. Nevertheless, only 25 percent of Americans believe that our level of confidence in each other is “a very big problem.”

How much do Americans really trust each other?

According to the Pew Research Center:

• 52 percent of Americans surveyed in 2019 believe other people can be trusted

• 41 percent of Americans believe that others would try to be fair, rather than take advantage of them.

• 37 percent of Americans believe that others would try to be helpful, rather than just looking out for themselves.

One reason given for the decline in social trust is the polarization of our country.

“A millennial woman described it this way: ‘We have become a very polarized society where people make snap judgments about others solely based on their political leanings. It wasn’t like this before. In the past people may meet someone new and get to know them and realize what they have in common, etc. Now if you meet someone and they are on the opposite end of the political scale, then people … tend to make all-encompassing assumptions about many aspects of who that person is. And doesn’t necessarily realize they have a lot in common.’”

Sisters Country, through a process of creating “a connected community working together for the common good” may ultimately rediscover those commonalities that bind and unite us.

It is the accumulation of social capital that gives rise to social trust. One place to accumulate social capital is our neighborhoods — through the friendships we establish that also create a sense of belonging.

The strength of neighborhood attachment was measured in the United Kingdom by statements such as: I belong to this neighborhood. Friends in my neighborhood mean a lot. Advice is available from my neighborhood. I borrow and exchange favors with neighbors. I would work to improve my neighborhood. I would remain in the neighborhood. I am similar to others in the neighborhood. I regularly stop and talk with neighbors.

Each of us can grow our social capital and promote social trust by spending time talking to, working with, and helping out our neighbors.

Another way to accumulate social capital is through the intimate relationships we form with friends and family — our social networks.

Giving and receiving support grows social capital and helps to promote trust amongst the members of the social network. We should also feel comfortable turning to community resources, including mental health professionals, when our current needs outstrip the support available through our social networks.

A third way to accumulate social capital is through participation in civic organizations:

In Sisters Country, civic engagement might include:

• Being active in church or other religious organization.

• Volunteering at Habitat for Humanity or the Kiwanis Food Bank.

• Serving on a neighborhood association board.

• Belonging to a professional organization.

• Being a member of a sports club.

• Participating in a political organization.

Civic engagement increases the social capital of everyone who participates in an organization and every life that the organization touches, spreading social trust across Sisters Country.

One of the most meaningful steps each of us can take — right now — to promote social trust in Sisters Country is to follow public health guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID.

Together we can decrease suffering in our community, while hastening our return to a normal life where we can once again hug our grandchildren.


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