If we discuss our shared aspirations, we tend to keep in mind that we have joined a venture larger than ourselves, one that we care deeply about, one that we want to preserve for next generations. We especially benefit by discussing our core aspirations when, as now, the differences that have always characterized our nation turn vitriolic, when our inability to work together becomes a drag on our progress. A widely embraced American Spirit or community spirit can motivate us as well as stir within us a generous sprit toward each other. It might become a catalyst for meeting the considerable challenges that we face as Americans and a boon to the continued building of our nation.
This work on the American Spirit and community spirit springs from the efforts of the Divided Community Project. The project uses collaborative approaches to help local leaders to deal constructively with division, to plan community-wide discussions about solving the community’s problems, and to plan in advance to respond effectively to community unrest. Throughout this work, the project noticed that communities that identified and celebrated their shared aspirations used that to generate a more generous spirit toward each other and to engage in the hard work of resolving the issues dividing them. Historians and columnists have made the same point about the nation as a whole.
The Project decided to devise a collaborative process that would help communities give voice to their shared dreams, particularly those that would help with face current challenges together. Project researchers tried out the tentative process to articulate an American Spirit that would be widely and deeply shared and would speak to the nation’s polarization. With support from the Kettering Foundation, they interviewed people whose work involved listening to a variety of voices within the community; created a website on TheChisel.com to prepare people to consider candidates for an American Spirit; facilitated small group meetings with diverse groups drawing from Ohio, Utah, Georgia and more; held a full-day meeting reflecting a wide spectrum of backgrounds, ages, and viewpoints; and checked the values within the American Spirit that emerged from that meeting against polling data. The meeting participants came to consensus on an American Spirit reflected on the home page. In addition to this work on the American Spirit, researchers for the project also interviewed people who had been involved in articulating local community spirits.
The host for this project is The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law’s Program on Dispute Resolution, ranked #1 among law school dispute resolution programs by the US News in 2019. The project started in 2015 and in 2018 won the “Lawyer as Problem Solver” Award from the American Bar Association Section of Dispute Resolution. Its leadership team includes four faculty at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law with expertise in mediation and dispute systems design, including the former Attorney General for the State of Ohio; five mediator-facilitators with decades of experience mediating, designing and managing dispute systems; a police chief; an expert in race and ethnicity; and a sociologist whose work focuses on dispute resolution. Moritz law students who have studied dispute resolution play key roles in the project’s work.
Consider joining the initiative to celebrate the American Spirit with stories, music, or videos that help bring it home to people across the nation. We’ll post some of these on this website if you send them to AmericanSpirit@osu.edu. Or you may want to help to identify your community’s spirit. We have posted a guide with ideas for doing that.