Post Debt Crisis: How to Bring Out the Best in Ourselves

The debt ceiling crisis brought out some of the worst of people’s tendencies in the country. Today, many of us are asking what can be done to get things moving in a better direction. Here are five questions that can help you and others bring out the best in ourselves, and which you can put to use immediately in your own life, work and community.

I thought to draw on these questions this morning because so many of us are so deeply frustrated and angry about the state of affairs in the country. Oftentimes we can feel like we can’t change the nation’s trajectory, that we are prisoners to current conditions.

It doesn’t seem that a “change” in the tone and substance of Washington, D.C., in many state capitals, or for that matter in many communities, will come anytime soon. Indeed, such change may materialize only when the country demands and expects it. I believe we’re moving in that direction, but we’re not there yet.

But where does that leave you?

Must we stand idly by and wait for others to change the nation’s course? Should we simply put our heads down and tend to our own affairs? Do we believe that our own actions do not matter?

My answer is simple and direct: what each of us does daily does matter.  It matters to what happens in our own communities, in our workplaces, in our relationships. It matters to who each of us is, and whether we believe we are staying true to ourselves. If these things don’t matter, then what does?

So, on this day, the day the debt ceiling crisis has come to an end (at least for now), what can we do? Here are five questions I’d urge you to ask yourself, to answer, and to act on.

  • How can I come together with others to truly make a difference?
  • How do I make the kinds of leaps in my life and in efforts in my community to have the impact and life I seek?
  • How can my participation in the community reflect the best of my personal values?
  • How can I unleash the potential of myself and others?
  • How do I find the courage and humility to take such a path?


Over the past weeks, I have traveled to Kansas City, Battle Creek, MI, Champaign/Urbana, Ill, Detroit, Columbus, OH, San Francisco, and Brazil, among other places, and no matter where I go, I hear people yearning to make a difference in their communities and to live their lives in meaningful ways. Each of us can do this, and the questions above can help. Their very simplicity is what we need to grapple with right now.

As you move ahead, I ask you to keep the words of Dorothy Day, the Catholic social activist, in mind. These words have inspired me for years.


Some people say, what is the sense

of our small effort?

They cannot see that we must lay one

brick at a time, take one step at a time.

A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that

spread in all directions. Each one of

our thoughts, words and deeds is like that.

No one has a right to sit down and

feel hopeless.

There is too much work to do.

Re-posted by permission from State of the Re-Union.


Home page photo by CarbonNYC

About the Lead Author

Richard C. Harwood
Richard C. Harwood
Rich Harwood is a leading authority on improving America’s communities, raising standards of political conduct and re-engaging citizens on complex and controversial public issues. He is a frequent contributor to national and syndicated media outlets including MSNBC, NPR, The Christian Science Monitor, CNN’s Inside Politics, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, and C-SPAN. Called "one of the great thinkers in American public life," he has dedicated his life to helping people make good on their urge to do good. His latest publication, Why We’re Here, documents how public broadcasters and organizations like them innovate, become more intentional in relating to communities, engage and mobilize people and ultimately deepen their impact in people’s lives. He is founder and president of The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation.

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