Occasionally, I get notes or emails from readers, often with a kind word, but sometimes not so kind. I am appreciative that people are willing to spend time reading my thoughts, and one reader asked who I read on a regular basis.
I try to read writers from various disciplines and from liberal, conservative and moderate philosophies. One of my favorites is David Brooks. He’s a reformed conservative who now describes himself a moderate, a contributor to the PBS NewsHour, columnist for The New York Times, guest lecturer at Duke and author of several books. Recently, he wrote two columns I can’t get out of my mind.
In the column titled “A Nation of Weavers,” Brooks says we are living in a time when the basic norms of decency, civility and truthfulness are under threat. He credits much of this to 60 years of excesses in what he calls hyperindividualism, the emphasis on personal freedom, self-interest, self-expression and single-minded personal fulfillment. Brooks calls it the era of “You do you.”
But he is observing a counter-cultural movement as he travels from towns like Wilkesboro, N.C., to Houston, Texas. People are working to counteract self-absorption. He calls these people weavers, folks who build community and are weaving together the social fabric. Especially in this COVID-19 pandemic he finds weavers trying to spiritually hold each other so we can get through this together.
“‘I am broken; I need others to survive,’ an after-school program leader in Houston told us. ‘We don’t do things for people. We don’t do things to people. We do things with people,’ said a woman who builds community for teenagers in New Orleans.” He cites a North Carolina nurse, with an 8-month-old baby, who left her infant to go to New York to help at the height of the pandemic there. We see it in a Chapel Hill church that feeds those who are hungry (either for food or community) every day outdoors at noon, or in several Raleigh houses of faith offering canned food giveaways. Neighborhoods have established phone trees, checking in with neighbors, shut-ins and those who are lonely. Even as they practice social distancing the “we precedes me.”
On the other extreme is what Brooks calls “rippers.” “The rippers, from Donald Trump on down, see everything through the prism of politics and still emphasize division. For the rippers on left and right, politics is a war that gives life meaning.” They thrive on disruption and dissension.
Despite what you might hear or read, Brooks says the rippers are not winning. America, he says, is more united than at any time since 9/11. “The pandemic has been a massive humanizing force — allowing us to see each other on a level much deeper than politics — see the fragility, the fear and the courage.”
I’ll bet you can identify weavers, those who demonstrate hospitality, generosity and encourage interdependence. I’ll wager you also know some who are rippers, who want to divide us, stereotype others, call names and rip the social fabric. Getting us to hate each other gives them power.
Are you a weaver or a ripper? Which will bring you and those around you more joy? Many believe we are at a turning point in this state and can decide how we want a new North Carolina to be. Weaving and textiles are a proud part of North Carolina’s heritage, and I want to live in a state of weavers.