Current polarized political rhetoric and hype has us all on edge.

Indeed, it has many of us tuning out altogether, just when our nation needs to unite in purpose for the greater good of all humanity. Significant historians believe our nation is experiencing the “winter of our discontent” with hope of an imminent spring rebirth faint on the horizon.

Fundamental Virtues and Values

Philanthropy in America continues to be a pace setter in directing our nation back to “true north” and to the fundamental virtues and values that made America strong and united in community. Alexis de Tocqueville first identified the “spirit of self-interest rightly understood” in his historic saga, Democracy in America. It depicted Americans’ unique role in building and caring for their community – the rich, the poor, and the middle class. He complimented and commented on our forebears’ commitment to help, nurture, give to neighbors and foster vibrant and energetic communities for the public good.

De Tocqueville may not have called such actions “philanthropy,” but they certainly had all the qualities of the “love of humankind,” manifested through philanthropic endeavors of the giving and sharing of time, talent and treasure. He applauded our “habits of the heart,” which ennobles human beings.

The “habits of the heart” are under heavy attack by recent events on the world stage and in the political arena at home. Disunion, disharmony, distrust, destruction and death encompass the planet. Conquest has replaced compassion. Nations are bankrupt in currency and in compromise. Here and abroad we witness governments paralyzed and corporations vilified.

Resetting Our Moral Compass

Perhaps it is time for the third sector, philanthropy, to lead in reviving our “habits of the heart” and renewing our faith in humankind’s nurturing and benevolent ways. Perhaps collaboration, communication, and conspicuous compassion can hasten the advent of spring on the horizon for a nation in discontent. What will it take to mobilize the entire philanthropic community to reset our moral compass? What roles can each of us in the philanthropic sector play? Are you willing to accept the challenge?

This post was originally published October 22, 2012 and has been updated for relevance.

Sign up for my monthly e-newsletter at and get my latest thoughts on women and philanthropy direct to your inbox. You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter.