write from time to time about “The Commons.” People sometimes ask me what exactly do I mean by that phrase. Is important to understand The Commons when we talk about showing up, digging in and sucking less – the components of swinging for the fences.
When my family and I lived in Connecticut, it was taken for granted that nearly every town we entered had an area in its center called “The Green.” It was on the green that the town gathered for local political rallies, community festivities, and informal meetings between friends. Kids would hang out, local shop owners would eat their lunches, couples would hold hands on the benches in the green. Traffic slowed dramatically as one approached the green. Without a straight-away main drag, it was impossible to blast through town.
Life was slow and easy on the green. Its original purpose within Colonial New England was to serve as common grazing ground for area farmers. Many of those farmers had very tiny plots, hardly more than a good-sized garden by today’s standards, and very few cows. Taking care of that green, that common area, was second-nature to the farmers and the town’s people. Healthy cows would mean good milk and therefore good cheese, butter, and so on. It was in everyone’s interest to keep up the green or common area.
We continued our westward expansion across this country. Although farm size grew exponentially, and the need for a downtown common greenspace was all but eliminated, we still held to the sense of being together in our common life – at least more so than today. People supported one another in ways that would seem astonishing today. I think of a barn-raising party, for example. Hard to imagine several dozen people gathering to build a neighbor’s barn (although Habitat for Humanity does come to mind here).
The Commons, as I talk about it, is the sum total of all the shared resources we have as a nation. Think of the National Parks, as one easy example. No one “owns” the view of the Grand Canyon. It belongs to all of us. There are other spaces common to all of us. There are shared experiences, like overcoming the Great Depression, surviving a winter storm, witnessing an assassination, going to war. We breathe the same air, drink the same water, live together on this fragile earth, our island home. We drive the same roads, travel the same skies, fish the same waters. But we also have some shared values like fairness, equal opportunity, mercy – and celebrate the achievements of the underdog. If you work hard and play by the rules, you ought to be able to get ahead by your own merits. But much of The Commons is in peril.
A sense of “I got mine, the heck with you” is raising its ugly head in our society. People often gauge their involvement with a civic concern by terms that only benefit them, without considering the larger whole. This is not Little League affirmation. I submit that, for our own sake and that of our country, we need more baseball. We especially need more attention to Little League Affirmation. “Atta boy” “Atta girl,” “You got this” need to be part of our daily conversation. Like baseball, I matter because we matter. I need to show up to my community, my neighbors, and dig in to the tasks that face us. We all need to suck less, get better through practice, and swing for the fences. The Commons, in fact our very lives, depends on our best efforts to be stewards of it.