Robert N. Bellah is the recipient of the United States National Humanities Medal “for his efforts to illuminate the importance of community in American society.” His life-long dedication in sociology resulted to his exceptional teaching experience from different universities in the United States, his large array of influential works in essay and book forms, and a vast number of highlighted and influential lectures that “has raised our awareness of the values that are at the core of our democratic institutions.” Indeed, he is and continues to be a distinguished sociologist and educator of the country.
“Why do we need a Public Affairs Mission? The Moral Crisis in American Public Life” is one of the significant lectures he has given at the Southwest Missouri State University on October 17, 1995. The lecture aims to foster civic consciousness among the American people by exploring racial and class division issues in the United States under the general heading of democracy in its moral and dignified sense, by underpinning causes and hidden purposes behind them as explained by several popular figures in social and economic fields, by suggesting deindustrialization as the primary cause for the “systematic withdrawal of institutional support, public and private,” to the uneducated African Americans, and by pointing that the American religious life is our deepest moral resource. Specifically, he recommended a national and global action to fight against income polarization, and a community-based response of strengthening civic consciousness among the people in realization of a national effort to erase racial and class division and to propel the move towards a classless society. Indeed, communal action is at the core of his expertise. But I beg to differ.Individuality and practicality is a major theme in American society, yet the lecture failed to use and combine these values for a resource approach to counter this moral problem threatening American democracy. Americans want to know that they contribute in improving the state of the country. They want to see improvements, feel it, touch it, and delight in it.
It was blatantly discussed in the article that the problem has been increasingly overwhelming, and urgent actions are needed to fix it. Let those who were made to act on it do it. After all, what are governments, duly established institutions and non-government organizations are for but to tackle these global and national problems? These problems must be left to these establishments, but it does not exempt each and everyone in the country the moral responsibility to care for a fellow American, to attend to a fellow human being, to be a good citizen for the future generations.Make it personal, make it practical. This is an advocacy to utilize individual involvement in civic affairs, to inculcate altruistic and nationalistic values to the American people, whether underclass, overclass, or middle class, and to strengthen the moral values underlying democracy, the very foundation of the American society.
What the country needs is people working for each other, not for their selves. What the country needs is people helping each other towards a better future. Don’t give money to the needy, they don’t really need it. Welfare programs don’t work because of the misconception that poor people need food. No, what they need are programs that could help them grow. And these programs are very well available by almost everyone in the country – children, students, workers, parents, teachers, and elders.
Let us help each other. As the saying goes, “Give a man fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man how to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime.”