In the weeks and months following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Americans stepped up to serve in a variety of ways. Though they had been deeply divided over the nation’s role in the developing war, people largely set aside their differences and united around a common cause after the 1941 strike on the Hawaiian naval base.
Americans enlisted in the military, served on the homefront, conserved critical supplies, salvaged scrap materials, joined the workforce, and scaled production of military hardware to unthinkable numbers.
In short, Americans generally overcame their differences in the face of a national crisis and sought to serve the greater good. And not only did that public service benefit the nation as a whole, it eased the existing divisions between individual people.
Not surprisingly, recent studies suggest that public service could do the same for America in 2020.
In a 2016 report called Volunteering and Civil Life in America, AmeriCorps reported that “volunteers are more likely than non-volunteers to talk to neighbors, attend community meetings, participate in civic organizations, discuss politics or local issues with family and friends, do favors for neighbors, and fix things in the neighborhood.”
The Stanford Social Innovation Review reported in 2018 that “[v]olunteerism not only supports the impact of community-based organizations in the places where they serve, but also connects individuals to one another and to the issues facing their community. It has the power to unite people of different races, ages, religions, and sexes together for a common cause.“
It’s reasonable to suggest we’re facing a national crisis of our own in 2020. Pew Research reported in 2019 that 64 percent of Americans believe that trust in each other is shrinking, and 70 percent of those people believe it’s preventing us from solving problems. Coupled with a pandemic and a disputed election, the odds are not currently in our favor.
But if public service has the power to build trust, and if our nation is suffering under declining trust, an easy first step for each of us is to serve the people around us. To find a way to work with others in our communities for the benefit of something greater than ourselves.
“When we stand shoulder to shoulder to serve with others, we gain another perspective on the lives we share, while using our time and talents to build a stronger nation.”
Our communities will be better for it, our nation will benefit, and each of us will, too.