By Gary Gunderson
Accelerate and deepen the NC Way
How might one accelerate and deepen the NC Way? After all, despite all its assets, North Carolina is not much better off in terms of most health indicators than its deep-South cousins. We have mostly up to go.
Mainly, you’d want what is already happening to move faster. First you’d avoid entangling the NC Way too much with the partisan delirium of Raleigh. You’d make sure the really big religious networks were aligned. You’d use the extraordinary networks of education that are so distinctive to the state; their neutrality is as valuable as their intelligence. People trust (and generally don’t fight over) their local community college. These are engines to pump smart science and practical know-how into and through the networks of faith.
What makes great and powerful institutions humble enough to be useful? Eye contact and heart contact with someone who needs help. Sociologist Robert Putnam could have been writing about the NC Way in his 2010 book American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. He noticed that two issues—but only two—splinter along political and religious lines. The NC Way focuses on the fact that all the overheated schemes we see dissolve into grown-up behavior when people face a real person who needs compassion.
There are the well-known fiery battles with predictable divisions over sexuality, abortion and partisan identity. Faith groups tend to vote very differently from one another and have for many decades. But when a real need shows up with a human face, you’ll find wheelchair ramps getting built without requests to see voter registration or immigration papers. You’ll find someone willing to face down a pit bull and ignore perceptions of race, religion, bigotry or intolerance because the hospital said that patient needs his or her prescription.
That’s the NC Way. While not quite the norm, it’s not in the distant future. It’s happening now on some scale in every one of the state’s 100 counties, in every health system and in almost every group that worships.