Balancing heritage and voice

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By Tom Holmes

Contributing Reporter / Religion Blogger

In Handmaking America Bill Ivey argues for what he calls an expressive life, which includes two components: heritage and voice.  See what you think about his vision.  What follows is a direct quote from pages 142-143.


Heritage is history, community, family, and tradition; it is religious faith, neighborhoods, and the multiple connections to the present and past that give us a sense of belonging, an understanding of who we are.  Voice, on the other hand, is who we are along.  What are our dreams and talents?  What do we bring to politics, to community, and how do our feelings and insights find their way to the larger world?  If heritage is about the comfort of belonging, voice is about adventure and unknown.  Others have observed the expressive life tension.  David Brooks, in his incisive and funny New Yorker essay "Social Animal," argues that two sides of the debate about "what makes us happy" can be represented by Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road and the movie It's a Wonderful Life.  As Brooks sees it, "the former celebrates the life of freedom and adventure.  The latter celebrates roots and connectedness."  His distinction is exactly right. . . .

Community and connectedness can be overdone. . . .The notion that one should be primarily defined as a Jew, a New Yorker, a Navajo, or a university professor can be profoundly limiting.  In fact, Eastern religions—the ones that honor mediation and the monastic life—can be understood in part as responses to the overly constraining linkages that envelope individuals in family and community in India, China, and Japan.

It's all about balance.  A vibrant expressive life can be a key to happiness and purpose in our post-consumerist democracy, but only if citizens have access to both the connective tissue of tradition and spiritual practice and the tools of political engagement and personal creativity.  This important because a balanced expressive life grounds America's sense of well-being in something more fundamental and affordable than envy-induced spending. . . .

Egalitarianism reflected in a reasonable standard of material well-being for all citizens is an important hallmark of America's democracy. . . .If Americans will not be abandoned and lonely, we must tax ourselves, not grudgingly but in the spirit of mutual endeavor and shared accomplishment.

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