Reweave the Social Fabric

I have often written inspirational reflections off pieces that David Brooks has written which I usually read in the New York Times.  I find Brooks addresses issues that I find important and salient to our world’s hope.  His recent piece fits this bill and lures me to ponder it.  I always hope a few of the folks who read this will move on to read the full reflection from Brooks.  It is worth it.
The title of the most recent piece from Brooks is called, “Giving Away Your Billion.”  I was tempted to skip this one because I fall quite short of having a billion bucks!  I figure Brooks is well off, but I doubt he has a billion.  I know Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and the others do have it.  And I was well aware of Warren Buffett’s call to fellow exceedingly rich folks to give away most of their money before they die.  Buffet calls for folks to join him in this Giving Pledge.  And he invites people to write their own giving pledge letter.  Brooks has been reading some of these pledge letters and this prompted his reflection.
The first thing Brooks said that surprised me a little was his comment that “Most of the letter writers started poor or middle class.  They don’t believe in family dynasties and sometimes argue that they would ruin their kids’ lives if they left them a mountain of money.”  I supposed most of the wealth might be generated by rich families.  Of course, many of those wealthy people still had the advantage of good parents, good education, etc.  Clearly, these advantages do not guarantee anything, but they are advantages.
Brooks’ thoughts went to a new level when he imagined what he would do if he had a billion to give away.  To what would he pledge?  His answer was insightful.  “I’d start with the premise that the most important task before us is to reweave the social fabric.  People in disorganized neighborhoods need to grow up enmeshed in the loving relationships that will help them rise.  The elites need to be reintegrated with their own countrymen.”  His plan is to give money that would “reweave the social fabric.”  This fits with all Brooks has given focus in his recent writings.  In some ways the social fabric of our country and communities is what it’s all about.  Without a social fabric, we have chaos.
People really do need to be involved in loving relationships.  This is not just immediate family.  It is what many of us have had and, sadly, way too many never have.  I think about the schools I attended, the Quaker churches that nurtured me, etc.  While they were far from perfect, they gave me chances.  And I think about kids in inner cities, kids with drug addicts as parents (even if there are two), etc.  The odds are stacked against them.
Brooks builds on this as he ponders what to do with his imaginary billion.  He said, “Only loving relationships transform lives, and such relationships can be formed only in small groups.  Thus, I’d use my imaginary billion to seed 25-person collectives around the country.”  This is odd language---25-person collectives.  But it makes perfect sense.  He says these collectives would meet regularly---usually weekly.  They would “share and discuss life.”  That begins to sound a little like spiritual communities to me.  And it sounds a lot like the classes I teach!
Another thing Brooks said jumped off the page at me.  He notes, “There would be ‘clearness committees’ for members facing key decisions.”  This is Quaker language!  To have a “clearness committee” is a normal way for a Quaker to invite others into the decision-making process.  I have had such committees to help me discern next steps.  Basically Brooks and Quakers are affirming we need others to make the most sense out of our lives.
He proposes these 25-person collectives would help folks at three stages of life: “poor kids between 16 and 22,” next “young adults across classes between 23 and 26” and, finally, “successful people between 36 and 40.”  I find the language describing each grouping to be quite instructive.  I feel like I am already doing some of this, but I could do better and do more.  And for me, it is often adding a spiritual dimension for each particular cohort.
There is more in Brooks’ article to which I may return.  But I find his idea interesting and challenging.  And I suspect he would agree that, at its heart, it is a spiritual issue.  Spirituality is not isolated from normal worldly affairs.  To the contrary, spirituality is part of the very fabric of our society.  If we are going to reweave the social fabric, I am confident this requires some spiritual thread.  Without it, the fabric will rend at some point. 
The spiritual fabric will inevitably include the virtues or it won’t sustain the kind of health, meaning, purpose and success we ardently desire for all people.  And in my theology, God desires this for all of us, too.  Warren Buffett and his rich friends already know that when life ends, their success is not simply “the bottom line.”  Their success has to have a meaning and purpose component that outlives them.
This requires a giving pledge.  That sounds pretty spiritual to me. 

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