Talking to Strangers: Unity in Purpose Essay

Talking to Strangers: Unity in PurposeIn Danielle Allen’s book, Talking to Strangers, she focuses on how citizenship affects people and how they relate to one another, noting that actively generating and sustaining trust is essential to fostering working relationships within a polity.  She describes how citizenship binds people together and how people of differing cultures and ethnicities, strangers, must find positive ways of relating and working out their differences together.  In aiming to paint a picture of how relating to one another works within a country between citizens, Allen focuses on the recent history of race relations in the United States as a focal point for her description of the necessity and support of trust between citizens, the loss of unity through slavery and segregation and the gaining of a whole people, the imperfection of people and their call to sacrifice themselves for one another, and the positive push for brotherhood, love, and political friendship.  Illustrating a common purpose between citizens of a nation, Allen calls to mind the ways in which individuals are able to foster division and pain within the democratic process and the ways in which unity and common goals are achieved to the trust and benefit of all people.  It is essential for all people to explore the ways in which citizens are bound together, better and worse ways of acting and conversing, and how language and behavior affect the trust relationship in the United States.Being a part of a nation of people is not always easy, especially when there are cultural and even physical differences between individuals.  In the multicultural and multiethnic United States, there is certainly a living history to be seen in the way people interact.  Lack of trust founded on a negative perception of cultural differences, physical differences, and economic differences plays a large role in how people related to one another in modern society today, and some of these negative perceptions are even valid.

  For example, being very poor in the inner city can be extremely frustrating when one sees the lives of high luxury moving all around oneself.  Economic differences are enough to make anyone somewhat ill, and the very rich are certainly tied together with the very poor in the economic reality of a nation.  The great divide between rich and poor may be the number one reason for lack of trust and violence in the United States today.  However, on the other hand, negative perceptions of differences which are natural and good has brought much damage to the ability of citizens in the United States to trust and rely on one another.  If a black person is shamed due to his skin color or a white woman is shunned due to her race, there is no acceptance of natural God given differences in appearance and a sick seed of hatred is sown between people, wrenching the heart of the entire nation.  As far as cultural differences are concerned, here people are speaking about behavioral qualities.  Of course, there are behavioral qualities which are good and foster comradery and a sense of friendship, and there are also behavioral qualities which are not so good and have the tendency to hurt and shame fellow citizens.

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The historical fact of resistance to difference, of walls between people, is something ingrained in the memory of the United States.  Although these schisms can be repaired and healed, it certainly takes a certain amount of willpower and devotion to mankind in order to achieve these ends.  Racial hatred, cultural misunderstandings, religious intolerance, and class systems all lend to the reality of a divided citizenry, and these divides are all too often marked by offensive and even criminal behaviors.  Although perhaps there are some people who are simply unaware of their negative biases, there is no really good excuse for the blind citizens who unconsciously refuse to admit the wrongdoings involved in their personal and community lives.  In looking to modern America since the end of segregation in the 1950s and 1960s, one appreciates both the beginning of the end of such a great divide between people as well as the recognition of the amount of work still involved in bringing people truly together in a deep sense of trust and commitment within this country.  The idea that all citizens are created equal and protected by the one common law of a nation is an idea which must permeate the minds of all Americans, continually fostering the concept that people are all working together in a spirit of harmony and holism.In looking to how people in America interact with one another, it is impossible not to note both the positive and negative modes and styles.

  Although one would hope that behavioral interaction was always positive, the simple reality is that it is not so.  Negative actions and words still permeate the personal, communal, and political social spheres, doing destruction to idea of the trust relationship.  Derogatory comments and actions related to race, ethnicity, culture, economic status, familial status, religious practices, gender, political beliefs and other issues still find their way into the homes, neighborhoods, and city halls, and rude behaviors such as insults, curses, harmful discrimination, assault, verbal, physical, and sexual violence, theft and other offenses continue to breakdown and crack the united sphere of American life and citizenry.  However, and thankfully, there are also a multitude of positive and constructive modes of interaction and relating taking place in modern America between concerned and caring citizens.

  Making people feel loved, welcome, and safe is not an easy task, and American citizens have not yet completely provided those gifts to one another, however, through self sacrificing acts of kindness, people in this nation can reach out to one another and build up the communal body of the United States.  In choosing to offer oneself to someone else, whether it’s with kind words, monetary gifts, higher salaries to employees, loving actions toward family members and friends, handshakes, hugs, and kisses, or any behaviors demonstrating devotion to a common cause, citizens sacrifice themselves for their nation and they lay themselves before one another in humble appreciation of the simple fact that they exist, together.There is a multitude of ways in which people can break one another down, fence off others, demonstrate ignorance and disregard for the interrelationship of all people, yet the people who build one another up, tear down fences, and demonstrate trust and goodwill to their neighbors are the citizens which foster the personal, emotional, physical, psychological, social, and political health of the United States.  In looking back in time, there are hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of reasons why someone can harbor contempt for someone else today, however, it is essential to leave the past behind in aiming for goals and solutions to the troubled past.  Meditating on what someone did wrong, lack of forgiveness and harboring resentment, is not the way in which people move forward together.  There has to be a decided effort to build bridges and move forward, away from the pain and mistakes of yesterday, utilizing democracy and democratic practices as a stage for setting new horizons in the struggle to formulate a society based on brotherhood and good will.

  Freeing oneself from the chokehold of intolerance and lack of respect is the only way to pave a path toward true happiness and authentic citizenship, and offering oneself to someone else consistently in a concerted effort to do right for oneself and others must be the common aim of the people.In relating better to family, friends, and neighbors, there are specific ways in which one can promote trust through relating.  One way may be to talk less and listen more, to forget oneself for a moment and really try to hear the needs of one’s brothers.  Demonstrating that one is truly listening, that one actually hears and comprehends what the other person is trying to convey is perhaps the most invaluable asset to promoting friendship and fostering trust.  Another way may be asking open ended questions, inching the door wider in the search to gather as much information as possible about the true to life realities of the other person.  Offering information about yourself to other people, giving calm opinions in the form of gifted ideas, is also another way to promote honesty and compatibility between people.  Nonverbal interactions such as smiles, waves, handshakes, hugs, kisses, nods, bows, and caresses are also ways in which a person can sacrifice themselves in loving ways to others.

  Complimentary differences in gender and marriage can be discussed and nurtured, and ethnic and religious differences can be better understood and appreciated.  Also, and perhaps even most importantly, the pay differences between the upper classes and lower classes must be rectified by the sacrifice of extreme luxury and the buttressing of the poor.When people finally recognize the sincere importance of self sacrifice, open mindedness, and trust between citizens of this country, then America can truly grow into the greatness to which she aspires.  There is never a better time and place than now to make changes in the way one interacts with and relates to others.  Within the personal, communal, and political spheres, there has to be a relatively calm and peaceful way of presenting oneself, full of awareness, humility, and love rather than selfishness and greed, and hatred.  In addressing social issues, the leaders of this country need to embrace the America which is the populous and not only the America of special interests.

  There is a large sector of society, the neediest sector, which is often the least represented, lost in the flood of corporate dollars, however, through concerted efforts of ethical citizens to right the wrongs and balance the scales of equity, the concept of citizenship in America will move more and more towards authentic unity and brotherhood and open the doors to the flood of love which is able and ready to flow from human hearts.  Perhaps then citizens will reconsider terming themselves strangers, for they will automatically be tied close to one another based on the common assumption of friendliness and devotion.  The stranger will then simply be the newcomer, welcomed with open arms.Works CitedAllen, Danielle.  Talking to strangers: anxieties of citizenship since Brown v. Board of Education.  University of Chicago Press, 2004. 


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