By David Allen
It's now late night in my home office in Ojai, California. I just saw my previous two blogs for Jim posted on the site, musing about what I might be moved to write about next.
Nothing. (I hope to heck Jim can confess ever to the same experience... he's so damn prolific!) But what kept showing up in the way of anything else on my mind, was my deep and abiding appreciation for Jim Fallows, The Atlantic
, and what this particular institution reflects and promotes for and about our culture and our world.
[I am trusting that Jim and the staff will not alter what I'm about to say. If they do, they and my world will hear from me!]
I had the privilege in 1963-64 of being an American Field Service high school exchange student, leaving my rather culturally isolated world of Shreveport, Louisiana, and spending a whole year living and learning with a wonderful Swiss family in Zurich.
It was a rich, rewarding, fabulous adventure and experience. Coming back to the U.S., though, I realized that I had missed something -- subtly and deeply. I couldn't wait to walk along a broken-down fence in a field. Though I gagged at the cheerleader-football-rah-rah high school energy I returned to, I was relieved to be free of the oppressive strictures of education and socialization of Switzerland's youth, which had them (in one of the most respected university-prep schools in Europe) spit-balling each other when the teacher turned his back. As puerile as my high school environment seemed to me, returning from having spent my young Zurich days around Cafe Odeon, there was nevertheless something strangely mature about the brash and culturally immature country of my birth.
I went on to study history in college, and became intrigued with cultural paradigms -- how the underlying belief structures and assumptions affect every aspect of perception and performance. And I began to notice those that were uniquely American (U.S.-version). This was for me 1965-68. By the way, for a lot of my peers, America sucked. On strike, shut it down. Smoke dope. Go other places (Paris, Mexico) that are hipper and freer. Rail against the unconscious middle-class. Hang with the natives. Live and love communally, share it all. 1967? No, this was 1927. Or was it 1847? Self-conscious self-criticism and disenchantment that was as American as apple pie.
I digress. I just want to acknowledge that this country has a special DNA, and The Atlantic is one of the most representative organs I've found that reflects it, in its multitudinous expressions.
Forty years ago I began to recognize the special gift and responsibility those of us in our culture have inherited. And I have been graced to be led to do work that aligns with it as best I can. It's all about freedom. Freedom from... and freedom to... We need to release ourselves from the constrictive bonds imposed by others and ourselves. And we are challenged continually to step up to the plate to be responsible for where we insert our creative power.
It's an American message. It informs this magazine and this medium. And I trust The Atlantic to keep me honest and on purpose with it.
Thank you, Jim Fallows, James Bennet, and the rest of the Atlantic
staff and its financial supporters for being the guardians of this culture we share and consistently providing a clear and catalytic energy to keep our flame burning.David Allen is the author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity and other books, and Founder/CEO of the David Allen
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is a staff writer at The Atlantic
and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Jimmy Carter's chief speechwriter. He and his wife, Deborah Fallows
, are the authors of the 2018 book Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America
, which was a national best seller and is the basis of a forthcoming HBO documentary.