Lenore Skenazy: When a Blackout Provides Light

For Michelle Lobb Horoho, a pre-K teacher and mom of four outside of Philadelphia, the blackout was a time of connecting. She and her husband invited their new neighbors — people they hadn’t gotten to know yet — over for a patio supper, “and we had this wonderful night with this new couple.”

In Bergen County, New Jersey, camp administrator Peter Goldberg and his daughter, 21, were without power for four days. But his daughter invited friends over to sit in the backyard, socially distancing, to play games and shoot the breeze. “It was nice to see them connecting with each other.”

But beyond just the joy of being social again, the blackout gave us something else. “Everybody just feels so helpless right now,” says Horoho. “To be able to help each other out was like satisfying that need. Anyone who could do anything to help was offering to do it.”

This is exactly the kind of responsibility revolution Philip Howard has been arguing for. He’s chairman of the Campaign for Common Good and author, most recently, of “Try Common Sense: Replacing the Failed Ideologies of Right and Left.” To innovate, to work hard, to feel good about ourselves and our country, “We need to believe that we can make a difference,” says Howard.

But that feeling has been slipping away since the 1960s, he says, when bureaucracy began growing like sourdough left to rise. The theory was that if government officials meticulously detailed the procedures for doing anything and everything, no underling would ever make a bad call or dumb mistake. Perfection would be the result.

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