Our holiday and annual giving theme always looks for a positive, celebratory and fun theme to bring our JACL community together and perhaps encourage your support both immediately financially and in the coming year through your engagement and participation in JACL activities and events.
This coming year will be especially important with the presidential election and the numerous down ballot races that share equal importance in setting the course of our nation and the communities in which we live.
Yet, as we think about the connections we share through JACL, we must also put it in the context of the surgeon general’s report earlier this year — the first of its kind — on the epidemic of loneliness. In Dr. Vivek Murthy’s opening letter, he states:
People began to tell me they felt isolated, invisible and insignificant. Even when they couldn’t put their finger on the word “lonely,” time and time again, people of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds, from every corner of the country, would tell me, “I have to shoulder all of life’s burdens by myself” or, “If I disappear tomorrow, no one will even notice.”
One would think that we are more connected than ever with modern technology. Social media tells me I have over 1,000 friends on Facebook and similar connections on LinkedIn.
We have so many ways of keeping in touch with one another, especially through the cell phones we all carry around, which carry the social media apps, text messaging, video calling and, of course, the basic phone-calling capability.
The cost of keeping connected has dropped incredibly compared to 20 or 30 years ago, when a single text message might cost 10 cents and long-distance calling outside weekend unlimited plans might cost 20 or 30 cents per minute.
As Dr. Murthy notes, it wasn’t the Covid pandemic that caused this widespread feeling of loneliness, but it did highlight it — and exacerbated it. What Covid did was remove the physical interaction that helped to foster stronger connection.
After a few months, many of us were seeking out ways to re-engage with one another, doing more outdoor activities like going for walks or, in my family, group cycling trips. Firepits became necessary backyard accessories to bring people together outside during chilly nights.
While many of us joked that the better term for what we were doing during Covid was physical distancing, rather than social distancing, in reality, we were distancing ourselves more socially than physically.
Fortunately, as Covid has evolved, we are now able to return to more normal interactions, but we need to focus more on the quality of our interactions with one another and how we genuinely spend time WITH one another.
Perhaps the most telling part of the quote above from the surgeon general’s report is the sense of hopelessness that some people feel, and with all that has been happening in the world lately, that sense of isolation, of insignificance and not being heard is all the more acute.
For some, I suspect that there is a strong affinity to when JACL makes public statements on current issues. And this is an important function of JACL: to be a megaphone for our members when we do issue public statements.
But sometimes, there is more to the role of connections that JACL has with our members, with policymakers or with our organizational partners that supercedes and is more important than that role of making public pronouncements.
It is the relationships that we have with one another that will endure regardless of statements made or not made that truly define how we engage with one another in a truly connected way.
If one expects JACL to always put out statements that are in agreement with their point of view, it is an easy relationship but perhaps not a deep one. The true test is when the personal values of our members are not perfectly aligned with the organization, there is a genuine effort made to understand the differing perspectives of other members and constituencies, that we are truly working together to navigate the very real challenges we face in a very complicated world.
While we may not always be a place to amplify your personal perspective through our public pronouncements, I hope that we will be a place where your perspective will be considered carefully given respect and that you will feel valued by other individuals in the organization and by the organization as a whole.
I believe it is through that mutual respect that we can grow and work together, and it is through those connections that we can celebrate one another in the coming year and beyond.
David Inoue is executive director of the JACL. He is based in the organization’s Washington, D.C., office.