Toward a More Perfect Union
in an Age of Diversity

Study Circle Session TWO:

Bonds and Boundaries:

Looking at Our Communities


Introduction: The Ideas Behind This Session

Our common life is shaped by the ways that we come together in groups. Americans link up with each other in so many ways. Sometimes geography brings us together in a neighborhood or town. Sometimes we come together through organizations or institutions. Sometimes we choose the groups we belong to; sometimes they come with birth or shared history.

Learning where and how people connect also reveals where they don't connect. Communities or groups create bonds and boundaries, insiders and outsiders. When people don't feel welcome or comfortable, when they feel they're being cut out or threatened, it affects the spirit of the entire community. Learning how our actions or attitudes affect each other will prepare us to imagine what it would take to create a better life together.

Session Two Discussion-Starters

There are more questions here than you will have time to address. Choose a few that you think will be most interesting to your group.

  1. What groups do you belong to?

    Are you a comic book collector, a voice in the community chorus, or a soccer player? Do you belong to a congregation, an ethnic club, the PTA, or another group? Consider how important these connections are to your daily life. What do you gain? What do you give? Why?

  2. How do you decide who your "own people" are?

  3. What traditions, values or beliefs are important to the core groups or communities you belong to?

  4. Imagine that someone from outside your group wants to learn something about your group's history in order to understand you better. What stories would you tell that person?

  5. Have you ever felt like an outsider?

  6. How often do you feel very aware of one aspect of your identity? How often do you feel that you are out of place or even in danger?

  7. Describe what, if any, obstacles prevent you from enjoying the best that your community has to offer.

  8. Are there tensions in your community that surface in the schools, in neighborhoods, or around economic issues, such as jobs, taxes, and social services?

For examples of what some Americans are saying about these questions, check out what some people in the AMPU videos had to say for themselves.


  1. View Section Two of the discussion-starter video Toward a More Perfect Union with the whole group.

  2. Take a moment to read each of the quotations in What Some Americans Are Saying.

  3. A survey conducted for the National Conference in March, 1994, found that members of every group stereotype other groups. Stereotypes almost always contribute to community tension. To explore how this happens here:

  4. Americans have had some trouble looking at a place like Central Illinois and trying to figure out what communities are there. Although people spread themselves out over the open countryside, they established important and vital connections based on family, based on kin, based on their common membership in community churches, their organization of community schools. People came together for harvest festivals, for plowing, for work, for quilting.

    -- John Mack Faragher, historian

    Think about the important connections and support systems in your life. What is your community's equivalent of the barn-raising or the quilting circles of Midwest history? When do people in your community come together? If a newcomer asked you to point out some of the most important support systems in your community, what would you direct that person's attention to?

  5. Take this opportunity to let each other know about the places in your area that have special meaning for the groups that you identify with. These could be places that are full of memories, that tell or mark your group's history, or are places where people just like to gather. Describe how and why these places are special.

Go to the What Some Americans Are Saying page for this session

Go to Session Three of the AMPU Study Circle outline

Return to Session One of the AMPU Study Circle outline

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