word cloud of answers to "What are your fears for the United States?"
By Amy Ferguson

As an ongoing inquiry for our democracy initiative, we recently posted a poll on fetzer.org asking about your greatest fears for the United States. We received thoughtful and passionate responses from a variety of perspectives. We received advice, honest self-reflection, prayers, and helpful questions. We didn’t ask, but some of you told us about yourselves: that you’re parents and grandparents, history teachers, immigrants, and Swedish. Someone even sent a poem.

Responses fell into three categories: issues and fears, things we need more of, and things we need less of (or perhaps can do without all together).

Homophobia; racism; fascism; economic collapse; chaos; violence; income inequality; health of planet/environment; we have lost our souls; compromised leadership; social and political indifference; segregation; erosion of institutions (health, education, government, media etc.); gerrymandering; PAC contributions; lack of ethics; radicalism; socialism; governmental control; fears for future generations; leftism; progressivism; violence; bullying; dishonesty; climate change; attitudes toward the poor, people of color, women, LGBTQ people.

Compassion, care for each other, civic virtue, moral leadership, sense of common good, understanding of how fragile a democracy is, understanding of complex historical issues, dialogue, kindness to others (people and countries and planet Earth), instinctive kindness and optimism, diversity AND unity, respect, sustainability, humility, participation/speaking up, love, optimism, living life consciously.

Violence in popular media, greed, biasing business over people, self-serving, self-indulgence, focus on individual, profit at expense of all else, behavior and actions that are unethical, fraudulent, immoral, narcissistic; intolerance, injustice, hate, biases, ideological assumptions, intolerance, ego, fear mongering.

Reading through these items might make you feel breathless, maybe even a bit pessimistic. But it also reminds us where we are, especially as we consider our future, what we can and should do as we assess HOW we are together. The responses, taken together, almost seem to be asking how we humanize one another, how we enable ourselves to hear each other above the din of our own fears and the impulse to justify our points of view. For us at Fetzer, the need to recognize the beauty of the individual amid our aspirations of communal and societal life and the greater good is essential.

The American Aspirations project recently described common threads that weave us all together as a nation: our hopes and dreams for ourselves and this country. In their work, they asked people from all backgrounds, ages, political affiliations, and geographic areas in the United States to answer three basic questions.

1) What kind of person do you want to be?
When asked to rank personal traits that are “extremely important,” these were the top 5 responses and their corresponding percentages:

Responsible     78%
Loyal     70%
Hardworking     69%
Family-oriented     69%
Compassionate     63%

Other traits that ranked 50% or more include self-reliant, fair minded, open-minded, generous, strong, patriotic, and optimistic.

2) What are your hopes for your life?
When asked to rank personal goals that are “extremely important,” these were the top 5 responses and their corresponding percentages:

Having a purpose in life     73%
Enjoying life every day     71%
Respecting people who are different     70%
Having financial security     66%
Living by strong moral principles     65%

Other traits that ranked 50% or more include having the respect of others, making a difference in the world, and achieving financial success.

3) What kind of country do you want to live in?
When asked to rank national goals that are “extremely important,” these were the top 5 responses and their corresponding percentages:

Protecting individual rights and freedoms     81%
Ensuring fair treatment for all     79%
Maintaining law and order     75%
Achieving equality for people of different races / ethnicities     71%
Upholding moral standards     66%

Other traits that ranked 50% or more include caring for the less fortunate and encouraging cooperation and compromise.

Taken together, these forward-thinking questions and responses put us in a place to imagine our way into a flourishing democracy, both individually and collectively. We see that our common aspirations recognize the need for individual rights and exploration of meaning and purpose while upholding the care of the community—respecting difference and ensuring fair treatment for all. Our work will continue to explore these ideas as we support a democracy that enables us all to thrive.