Scott Bassett, one of Michigan's finest family law appellate lawyers mused the other day about the fact that Americans seem so isolated socially. Of course, we see people tuned out in a group--focused only on their iPhones looking at Facebook, Twitter or texts. "Forgive me for getting philosophical this early in the morning, but I've often wondered why so many of our clients, particularly those younger than me, have few neighbors or nearby friends they know well enough to rely on when unexpected problems arise (child care, a car breakdown, borrowing a cup of milk, etc). They lack the informal "safety net" that was present when the older members of this discussion group were growing up, and that has significant consequences for their post-divorce quality of life. The questions presented are: How important is community--an informal safety net? How important is school as an informal safety net? How important is family (from the perspective of the parent and from the perspective of the child?
Scott continued "In Communities of Character," published in the NY Times on November 27, 2015, Brooks wrote:
"We live in an individualistic age. As Marc J. Dunkelman documents in his book “The Vanishing Neighbor,” people tend to have their close group of inner-ring family and friends and then a vast online outer-ring network of contacts, but they are less likely to be involved in middle-ring community organizations.
"But occasionally I stumble across a loving, charismatic and super-tight neighborhood organization. Very often it’s a really good school.
"You’d think that schools would naturally nurture deep community bonds. But we live in an era and under a testing regime that emphasizes individual accomplishments, not community cohesion. Even when schools talk about values, they tend to talk about individualistic values, like grit, resilience and executive function, not the empathy, compassion and solidarity that are good for community and the heart.
"Researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education asked 10,000 middle and high school students if their parents cared more about their personal achievement or whether they were kind. Eighty percent said their parents cared more about achievement — individual over the group."
This Op-Ed piece can be accessed here: Brooks, David. "Communities of Character." New York Times, November 27, 2015. Accessed April 16, 2016. http://nyti.ms/1XkpJmZ
For today's children, the message -- the research -- bodes ill for most children, whether they are children in an intact family and especially if they are children in a family in crisis (middle of a divorce, for example, or a family post-divorce). Today's parents and the lawyers counseling them need to be very aware of these societal problems so that parents can be directed and counseled to seek and to provide appropriate support for themselves and for their children as they pass through periods of stress. For more on that issue, and a very striking take on the issue of how important family connectedness is for children, see Part II of this series.