For all of the things that seem to be going wrong in the world, there is one thing that is very right: When the chips are down, Americans are there to lend a hand.
Every year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics issues a report: “Volunteering in the United States.” Here in Michigan, one in four people volunteers. Next time you are in a room full of people, look around. If you are in a room with seven other people, at least two of you volunteer.
Michigan ranks 25th in the 50 states and Washington, D.C. for total volunteers. Maybe we are not at the top of the list; but we’re not at the bottom, either. As is the case nationwide, the number of people volunteering here in The Mitten has been slowly declining since 2011.
For those of us in the Flint community – even if you aren’t, really – chances are good that next year’s numbers will go up. We, as a state, are facing a crisis. We, the people, are jumping in and doing what we can for our neighbors.
This month marks 21 years since the Oklahoma City bombing. Do you remember how we, as a nation, pulled together? Yes, tragedy always brings us together. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the national volunteer rate spiked to at just over a third of the population.
After 9/11, the volunteer rate went through the roof. That unspeakable tragedy brought us together. We got to know our neighbors. We forgot the “us versus them” mentality, and found the “we.” Political affiliations, race – those things took a back seat to one common thread that still, technically unites us all: we are Americans.
We are the same wonderfully dysfunctional, often bickering family we’ve always been. When the chips are down, we will stop fighting with each other and fight for each other. But, what about the rest of the time? What happens to us?
Look at any family … sibling rivalry, irritations, disagreements that have spanned years or even decades, are often set aside in the face of tragedy, death or hardship. I am no expert, but I will hazard a guess here. Maybe it is because, along with being Americans, we are all human beings. We are wired to take just about anything for granted, including people, freedom, and the country we love.
I am not an official spokesperson for National Volunteer Month, but this little research fest I’ve immersed myself in has raised my awareness. When times are good or, at least not completely tragic, we forget the “we.” Politics, Wolverines vs. Spartans, Daylight Saving Time, these things return we the people to our designated teams: “us” and “them.” Maybe it is just easier to see the division in this country thanks to the barrage of opinions bombarding social media; but it seems like we are a little more divided these days.
I propose this: No matter whom you vote for, or how big a dope I or anyone else might think you are for doing so, we are all Americans. We have a country to protect. We have freedoms to fight for. We have children to prepare for the future. We, the people. Go Red! Go White! Go Blue!
(Oh, and go volunteer!)