A Nation of Joiners

Numerous observers, going back to Alexis de Tocqueville, have described Americans as rugged individualists. But that’s a false impression, argues sociologist Claude S. Fischer in the Jan/Feb 2015 cover story ...

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Alot of people I know are volunteers. My brother-in-law did a stint as a fireman when he was younger; now retired, he does pro bono legal work. My good friend Marjorie Tesser edits a literary journal, Mom Egg Review. What she gets out of it is “a sense of community,” she says.

Another friend, Sharon Richman, recently ran the publicity campaign for her regional branch of Hadassah, a Jewish women’s volunteer organization, helping them produce a fundraiser for breast cancer research. “I always get more out of volunteering than I give,” says Richman.

We’re a nation of joiners. Which is interesting since numerous foreign observers, going back to Alexis de Tocqueville, have described Americans as rugged individualists. Outsiders tend to believe we think only of ourselves, and, as the saying goes, let the devil take the hindmost.

That’s a false impression, argues sociologist Claude S. Fischer in our cover story (“The American Volunteer Spirit”). Sure, we admire individual achievement, but, he points out, “Rotary clubs, blood drives, online Kickstarter-type philanthropy projects, walks against diseases, beach cleanup weekends, you name it — belie the caricature of Americans as selfish individualists.”

Also in this issue, our American Pop columnist Cable Neuhaus looks at the fast-growing Sunday Assembly trend (“And Now, Let Us Stray”). Never heard of it? It’s a church-like service punctuated by singing and inspirational lectures — but with no mention of a deity. Do nonbelievers need (or deserve) some kind of spiritual sustenance? Tell us what you think. We’ll publish select replies in our next issue.

Finally, don’t miss “Omeer’s Mangoes,” the winning entry in our third annual Great American Fiction Contest. We received nearly 250 entries in this year’s competition, and we’re proud to continue the Post’s rich tradition of seeking out and publishing the best American writers.

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