Rebuilding community in America with Shaylyn Romney Garrett

100 Inspiring Voices | Episode #22 | Shaylyn Romney Garrett | Community, connection, and belonging


Shaylyn Romney Garrett is a writer, expert, and seeker of community, connection, and belonging.

She recently co-authored The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again with Robert Putnam, a hugely influential book on the future of America. Previously, Shaylyn helped launch Weave: The Social Fabric Project with David Brooks and The Aspen Institute.

In this conversation, I speak with Shaylyn about the future of American society, her latest book, and her personal quest to finding belonging in her own life.


3:45 – “There was always in me this search for belonging. There was my family before that tragedy and my family after. My siblings really grew up in the family before that tragedy and I grew up after.”

4:40 – “I am the mother of a 7-year-old journey and it’s been an interesting spiritual and energetic moment for me to recognize that my daughter is in her life at the exact moment that I was in when my family changed entirely.”

6:30 – “For me as a young child, it was this intense longing to belong, and then a journey to figure out what it would take to get that feeling.”

7:45 – “The first time I ever really felt that sense of belonging was actually in college, which is interesting because I completely bucked my family’s expectations.”

9:45 – “I’ve dealt with the tension of ping-ponging back and forth between those different versions of myself and trying always to figure out how do I authentically live in all of me in communities that sometimes only want part of me.”

13:45 – “Our circles of community are constricting or collapsing, meaning that our inner circles are becoming much more important to us and the middle circle of people that we might see once or twice or that might be slightly more casual connections are dropping out of our lives… it’s putting a lot more pressure on those inner circle relationships to fulfill all of our needs, which may not be realistic.”

15:15 – “[During Covid] parent’s are living with their children much more intimately and they’re forced to see the things they didn’t want to see before.”

19:45 – “Things got better slowly over the course of 60-70 years. But what happened from that Gilded Age to Progressive Era moment was a pivot. When you pivot, you’re still in the same spot, you’re just facing a different direction.”

20:45 – “Yes I am still hopeful – I do think there is still reason to hope – but I do think that we need to understand that it’s going to take time.”

21:30 – “That stuff [robber barons, social Darwinism] didn’t just go away. It was still there pulling downward. We just had a critical mass of people who decided it was time to go in a different direction.”

23:15 – “What seems to have changed first was a moral awakening. There was a heart change that began to happen in America before there was a policy change…. I think that is the most important lesson of this story. We keep looking outside ourselves for the solution to these problems, but actually the solution is going to start inside ourselves.”

29:15 – “What [the social settlement house movement] did was created experiential learning that created a heart change in people. They suddenly saw immigrants in all of their richness. They saw what these immigrants were bringing to America, not just what they were taking from America. They saw how laborers were genuinely being exploited by systems that were inherently discriminatory.”

33:00 – “I suddenly realized the only way to really tell this story better is to tell it as a first-person story. To stop being a spectator whose out there cheering on [the people doing the work] and start [doing it yourself].”

33:15 – “I have thought more about community and connection, and experimented more with it than probably almost anyone, and I still feel super lonely. I have less of it in my lived experience than most people.”

34:45 – “What I started to see were underlying cultural norms – that because they are widespread cultural norms are invisible – that are actually quite hyper-individualistic norms that keep us from connecting… we’re not just not connecting because we’re lazy, partly we’re not connecting because we’re swimming against the tide of a hyper-individualistic culture.”

46:15 – “What is the balance? At what point does a community have enough boundaries and commitments to be whole and real, but enough freedom to let us be ourselves?”

46:45 – “What does a community look like that gives me permission to be my full self but also has a strong sense of belonging? Is that even possible?”

47:15 – “I’ve sort of contorted myself in order to belong.”

48:20 – “Is it possible to create the first mass, multi-cultural democratic society?”

48:30 – “I am deeply grappling with these questions, and it’s taking me less to a place of what do we do with America right now, and more to a place of what do I do in my own heart to create space for the diversity of who I am, and also to be capable of belonging.”


Get in touch

Thanks so much for listening!