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How did America get so mean?

Does America need more Bildung

It’s a German word that describes the way an individual takes personal responsibility towards family, friends, neighbors, and our planet. 

Bildung promotes change, life-long learning, and emotional depth.It embraces knowledge, culture, art, science, new perspectives, new people, and new truths. And it demands everyone to be an active citizen. 

For writerDavid Brooks, it’s missing from America today. 

Observers have pointed to technological, sociological, demographic, and economic shifts fueling our mean-spirited outlook.

Brooks proposes something else:

The most important story about why Americans have become sad and alienated and rude, I believe, is also the simplest: We inhabit a society in which people are no longer trained in how to treat others with kindness and consideration. Our society has become one in which people feel licensed to give their selfishness free rein. The story I’m going to tell is about morals. In a healthy society, a web of institutions—families, schools, religious groups, community organizations, and workplaces—helps form people into kind and responsible citizens, the sort of people who show up for one another. We live in a society that’s terrible at moral formation.

He prescribes a way forward in his latest piece for The Atlantic called “How America Got Mean” and he joins us to explain more.

Copyright 2023 WAMU 88.5

Rupert Allman
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