Las Vegas Sun

January 27, 2015

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Letter to the readers:

Hunkered down and feeling all alone?

Dear Readers,

Last week, we asked you if you thought civility was possible in civic life, given the rough tone we’ve seen recently. The discussion that ensued was great, and we published a sampling of your letters Sunday. You can see comments on the original letter.

After we wrote that letter, we saw a blog post by Rich Harwood, an authority on American civic life, outlining a study due out in June that touches on some of the things you wrote about. Harwood always has an interesting perspective. He’s the president of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation and has spent decades studying American communities and people’s attitudes, trying to find ways to get people engaged in civic life.

In his post last week, Harwood briefly explains what he sees, which is a long decline of public participation in civic affairs. Why? Essentially, people gave up after failing to see things change. It’s not just that they gave up, but also that they feel further isolated in the process.

By the middle of the last decade, Harwood writes, Americans “had retreated after long feeling disconnected, pushed out, and impotent in their communities.” He said people didn’t see a way to change things in the country and thus decided “to try and hold onto — to protect — whatever gains they had made in their lives. So they hunkered down.”

Then the Great Recession came along, and “people felt their entire lives were upended and the American dream had turned into a nightmare where rigged-rules for the wealthy and powerful won out.”

Now, Harwood says, the feelings have deepened and Americans feel alone.

“There are virtually no leaders and organizations they trust; even more, there are few people around them — including family and friends — who they feel they can rely on,” Harwood writes.

He adds that the focus has changed from “‘politics, news media, and various institutions’ to questions about people, their lives, and a sense of where they fit in the world.”

In other words, it sounds as if people are less focused on what’s going on outside the walls of their homes.

The result of all of this is a dilemma because, he said, “people know they cannot go it alone moving forward — either to improve their own lives, or the life of the nation.”

As we’re thinking through this, we want to know what you think. There certainly is a loss of trust in government and major institutions — the polls show that. And it would make sense that people hunkered down, at least financially, during a recession. But have people retreated? Are they feeling alone?

We would think a better economy would be a cure, but Harwood says that despite signs of improvement in the economy, people’s feelings haven’t change for the better as you might expect. Instead, he said, they’ve deepened.

What do you see in your life? What about in the people around you? Are people still hunkered down? If so, why? What, if anything, would it take to change that?

You can send a letter to the editor to via email or you can send it snail mail (Letters to the editor, Las Vegas Sun, 2360 Corporate Circle, Third Floor, Henderson, NV 89074) or you can fax it to (702) 383-7264.

And Harwood's post, which is well worth reading, is here

We look forward to seeing what you think.



Matt Hufman is the assistant managing editor/opinion.

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  1. Matt,

    Yes it is all true. Here is one example of why. My brother is on company disability due to making some ill advised comments over frustrations at work. I asked if he could fly down from Sacramento and help me move my office to a new location for a couple of days. He called disability and asked it would be ok. The disability case manager said it would be ok as long as it didn't interrupt his therapy for anger management. He made sure it didn't and provided a doctor's note acknowledging that fact, as he was asked to do.

    In the middle of his visit, disability called and said due to his travels, his disability was cancelled. He was told travel had to be approved and was only approved if it was due to a 'life changing' event. My brother pointed out to the disability manager that this wasn't mentioned in the disabilty literature anywhere and he agreed it wasn't. He pointed out that the disabilty case manager who my bother dealt with never mentioned any of that and told him his trip would be no problem unless his therapy was interrupted. The manager admitted the case manager errored and probably wasn't trained well enough.

    Would the disability manager re-instate the disabilty for the time my brother was here? NO WAY!

    My brother told me he should have just made the trip and not told disability. They never would have known.

    Americans are losing control of their lives and they know it. Inequity is very common. Government rides roughshod over people. Vote D; vote R; and it doesn't matter. You cannot trust much of government and you can't trust many businesses. People take advanatge and accept no personal responsibility. Yes, Americans are withdrawing into their own lives, and for good reason. It is very damaging to our country and our society.


  2. Matt

    Basically, we're feeling disempowered. It isn't the uncertainties of life that have caused this, it is the crumbling of certainties that we have relied on. Two examples: you could go to the polls and send people of either party to Washington with the knowledge that they might do you varying degrees of good, but little harm. No more! You could always rely on the value of your home to appreciate. Collapsed in a sea of foreclosures and under water mortgages! No wonder we have crawled back into our shells (if we still have a shell). It is clear that the 99% may own the guns, but the 1% have all the ammunition.

  3. "There are virtually no leaders and organizations they trust; even more, there are few people around them -- including family and friends -- who they feel they can rely on..."

    Huffman -- Harwood got that one right, only it's more like "There are virtually no leaders and organizations worthy of trust." Mankind seems to have fatal flaw. It takes a good idea, turns it into an institution that proceeds to hopelessly pervert it.

    Orwell's "Animal Farm" was a prophecy!

    "Political language. . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." -- Eric Blair, aka George Orwell

  4. When I read the posts on my Facebook from Friends all around the world, I get the impression that folks no longer have that complete naive implicit trust and believe whatever is going on around them as being honest and true. Things are not as they appear. Back in the 1950s, people had a simple trust that carried them into one of the most innovative ages in modern history that we enjoy today, all for the "good of mankind" and not so much about profit.

    The gentlemen commenters have posted compelling reasons that I agree with. I am saddened by the government's treatment of Michael's brother--not just nor fair. There should be recourse in a hearing; if that has been done, then going to court would be the next step unfortunately. =(

    It is far easier to NOT put you neck out on the line when you know somewhere in the world, there is someone who is more than willing to chop it off.

    Survival and comfort as best as we humanly can maintain, appears to be a top priority for most.

    Blessings and Peace,

  5. Hi all:

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments.



  6. For Re Freeman: In the last half century, people have become increasingly fuzzy over what is good old fashioned manners and what is being politically correct.

    Your example of the Department of Education in New York City, causes me to shutter in amazement, ""The Department of Education in New York City is seeking to ban such words as "dinosaurs," "Halloween" and "dancing" from citywide tests on the grounds that they could "evoke unpleasant emotions in the students" according to the Wall Street Journal." What is wrong with people?

    It is the people who are willing to break out of the mold, think out of the box, take a road less traveled, that will create change. Difference can achieve. Indifference stagnats.

    Viva la difference!

    Blessings and Peace,