We live in an era where many people possess a strong dislike, distrust or outright hostility towards government. I don’t really share this belief. I like policemen and firefighters. I value clean, safe air and water, food which is safe to eat, buying products which are safe to use, armed forces to protect us from hostility, beautiful national parks to visit, excellent public schools for our kids, good roads to drive on, protection from monopolies poised to rip us off, and services to the poor, most vulnerable and fragile members of our society. I don’t mind being made to buy car insurance or health insurance or paying my fair share of taxes because I know it benefits everyone.
But, government must have its limitations so not to become tyrannical. Obviously, our country was created by folks escaping tyrannical governments in Europe. Government must be tempered by strong communities which are unique, cohesive and reflective of every person contained within them. Healthy Communities don’t depend on government, they partner with it and work together for the common good.
Unfortunately, there is another force at play which, in my mind, is far more disconcerting and destructive to the broader society and the local community than an overbearing government; it is the notion of “rugged individualism,” “don’t tread on me” thinking, and the idea that it’s okay for everyone to do what they think is right in their own eyes. Certainly, we need an “I can do it”, entrepreneurial spirit--that’s how our country became what it is--but an untethered “me first” independence can only lead to anarchy and social unrest. What we need is a strong spirit of community.
A Strong Community is vital for a number of reasons. By “Community” I mean a place defined not only by geography, but by a shared identity, shared values and beliefs, a sense of belonging, a sense of pride, and a concern for the quality of life and wellbeing of everyone. Strong Community is the embodiment of “We” thinking as opposed to “Me” thinking.
So, why is this important? First, our society has become so fragmented and disjointed that most people have lost a strong sense of belonging and connectedness to a community. Seriously, lots of people don’t really even know their neighbors well, let alone experience a sense of neighborhood community. Humans are social beings and must feel a sense of belonging for personal wellbeing, growth and emotional health. The emergence of gangs and counter cultural groups is the byproduct of a fractured sense of community.
Second, ponder the simple but profound words of Helen Keller, "Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much." Community should be the driver of solutions, the inspiration for innovation, the catalyst for the collective genius of groups of individuals to make their Community the very best for everyone! Healthy communities are able to bridge diversity and differences and coalesce around issues that are important and essential for everyone. Too often there is an attitude that government should take care of the community. Let us not forget that it is a “government of and for the people.” Community needs to be aggressively informing the governmental process to ensure that it reflects the indigenous beliefs, values, and needs of the community it represents.
Third, a Strong Community is one where the least in the community feels as honored and valued as the most respected in the community. A healthy community is inclusive and not exclusive. A community should be a big tent embracing diversity and differences with a shared sense of identity, belonging and uniqueness, discouraging an “us” versus “them” attitude, and constantly working to build bridges and enhance relationships.
Fourth, serving, supporting and helping others is not only a sign of a Healthy Community, it should be the norm. Strong Community fosters the opportunity for people to help people. Think about the day and time when communities seriously took care of each other. When somebody’s house or barn burned down, the community rallied together to build them a new one. When tragedy struck, folks responded quickly to provide help, comfort and whatever it took to promote recovery. I have heard so many stories about individuals and groups here on the Central Coast doing incredible things to help others – that certainly instills a sense of community pride!
Finally, there is no better time than now for each of us to realize that we all have a role to play, and a responsibility to make our communities strong, healthy and productive. It is not right or good for folks to passively sit on the sidelines and expect others to fix things, take care of the less fortunate and solve community problems. We need to be engaged and involved, and as concerned for others as we are for ourselves. Better said, each of us has the opportunity to make where we live an incredible place for everyone, it is just a matter of will. In reality, if there is no compassion or sense of caring, there is no “Community!”
I know that I am an idealist, but I dream of a community so strong and so cohesive that everyone’s needs are met; where everyone has food and shelter, companionship and social opportunities; where people feel safe and valued; where people are excited to mobilize to “raise the barn” when the unexpected occurs; and where everyone shares an identity and strong sense of belonging to a unique, tolerant and accepting, wonderful place, along with a commitment to keep it that way!