Families, communities, and nations are stronger when they have a civil society. When one considers the term civil society, one may be tempted to think that it is a group of people with good manners. I personally thought that it meant a place where people controlled their words and actions rather than attacking each other like wild animals. I learned a great deal from an opinion piece in the Deseret News written by Doug Wilks.
Wilks said that he heard the best definition for a civil society while attending the 68th United Nations Civil Society Conference held recently in Salt Lake City, Utah. The theme of the conference was “Building Inclusive and Sustainable Cities land Communities,” and the conference drew thousands of people from around the world.
At least part of the reason that the United Nations chose to meet in Salt Lake City is the society that is in Utah. Wilks wrote, “Years ago Utah was identified as one of the best states in the country for upward mobility.” This means that people living in Utah have an opportunity to improve their lives. Wilks included the following information in his opinion piece.
As the Deseret News reported in May 2015: “The Equality of Opportunity Project involved the tracking of millions of families over a period of years and uncovered a direct link between a child’s future earnings and the specific place where he or she grew up. In short, some neighborhoods are conducive to upward mobility while others, for a variety of reasons, are not.”
Wilks said that the Salt Lake City metro area was selected as one of the top three in the Harvard project based on its strength in the following areas: (1) The economic landscape of the greater Salt Lake area, (2) Its stable middle class, (3) Good schools and educational opportunities, (4) Its strong social networks, noting its religious communities and volunteerism, and (5) Its strong family structures.
The Greater Salt Lake area is not the only place in Utah that received recognition. Wilks also wrote that Utah County was recognized “as a place where the underprivileged can climb out of poverty” in a Social Capital Project of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress.
As the Deseret News reported in May of this year, there are pockets of ideal social mobility in the U.S., according to Nathaniel Hendren, an economics professor at Harvard University. He identified Prove in his research, which discovered that “children from low-income families grow up to earn $66,000 on average at age 35. In contrast, low income children who grow up in parts of inner Baltimore grow up to earn, on average, only $16,000 in adulthood.”
Where you live and where you come from make a difference.
It appears that the United Nations chose Salt Lake City for their conference “because of Utah’s commitment to civil society. This is a place that believes in the third leg of the three-legged success stool: Civil society, which in joining a strong private economic sector and an effective government, provide the stability needed for upward mobility.”
This brings us to the definition of civil society. Jeanetta Williams, the head of the NAACP in Utah, was part of a panel discussion. She works locally and nationally in promoting civil rights for all kinds of communities. She shared a conversation that she had with “a senior leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” “She said he would not just ask her how she was doing. He asked, “How are they treating you here?” Wilks wrote the following.
That is the best approach to creating a civil society that I heard during the conference. It’s not just about being polite or civil in society. A true “civil society” is about actively seeking to learn how each person we come across is faring. How are they being treated in the cities and towns where they live? Is there opportunity for them to live the life they wish to live and to progress?
Utah has discovered the principles for a creating an environment where people can grow and improve. Those principles can be found in the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is taught by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Latter-day Saints believe that all men, women, and children are spirit brothers and sisters who belong to the same loving Father in Heaven. We believe that it is our duty to watch over and care for each other.
Wilks presented the requirements for an environment where children can grow up and prosper or have upward mobility. Children need to live in an area where people consider everyone to be their neighbor and care about each other, an area that has a strong private economic sector, and an area with an effective government.
All three legs of the “stool” are necessary, but ordinary individuals may not have much control over the economic sector or the government. However, each one of us can help to develop a civil society. As we work on this creation, we will be strengthening families, communities, and nations.