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People need a sense of belonging

One Sunday morning the pastor said that “everyone has a need to belong.” He was confirming God’s earlier statement that it was not good for man to be alone.

That profound observation stuck with me because it is so true. However, we have not thought about seriously addressing this truism. The time has come to acknowledge that we are a nation of communities in which millions of Americans don’t belong.

It seems that the most intelligent thing we can do is to build stronger communities in which everyone can belong. By community, I mean an organization of people in which everyone cares for everyone, everyone sacrifices for everyone, everyone wishes good for everyone.

When we look across the country, we see too much anger, selfishness and greed. We don’t care for others, or sacrifice for others, or wish others well.

At the national level, more and more of the things that build a sense of community have been cast aside to accommodate a resurrected spirit of rugged individualism and cave culture. The Pledge of Allegiance isn’t going anywhere.

We demonstrate minimal care when people are dying because they cannot afford doctors or the medications they prescribe. According to Gallup, 34 million people knew a friend or family member who died in the last five years due to a lack of personal funds. That’s not community.

In cases of natural disaster, this country springs gingerly to help the victims. This fervor to do good lasts two days after which we slip out of the scene, e.g. Puerto Rico deserted in wreckage.

The United States has a crying need for community when the two political parties are doing their best to tear the national community apart. They are joined by the media where everything goes, including crude, disrespectful, and hateful blustering.

Imagine! The richest country with more advantages than enjoyed by any country in the history of the world and we’re unhappy. Two research organizations – General Social Survey and the World Happiness Report – agree that overall satisfaction in America declined by 50 percent between 2007 and 2018.

If all Americans could feel a sense of belonging in a national community, those figures would improve significantly.

So what about the North Dakota community?

While the size of the state enables us to better feel the pain and need being experienced by others, we still have people who don’t have a sense of belonging. Of course, our first thought goes to the Native Americans whose land we took by force – land they needed to survive – and then grumble because they don’t have jobs. In exchange, we deny them a sense of belonging.

When the first black airmen came to North Dakota in the early 1960s, they must have thought they were in Mississippi. They were ostracized, abused and told they didn’t belong here. North Dakota has made some progress but the Bismarck area is struggling over whether or not to permit 25 immigrants to belong.

Local communities, including cities, towns, schools and churches, are on the threshold of losing significant ground in maintaining a sense of belonging. A lot of community diminished when economics drove schools out of smaller communities.

The newspapers have been cutting corners for 50 years just to stay alive. This is not a crisis for the newspapers alone. Letting the voice of the community to go silent is a major step in the decline of the whole community.

Too many people in our society have no sense of belonging. As “one nation under God” we need to do better than to think only of ourselves.

Lloyd Omdahl is a former lieutenant governor of North Dakota and former political science professor at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks.

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