Sense of Community

I was talking with one of my sisters the other day about the Southern California lifestyle. I remarked how some things have changed from when I last lived here over 27 years ago but there are other things that haven’t. There’s one in particular that is especially troubling that hasn’t changed….the lack of a “sense of community.”
I don’t mean that to mean derogatory, it’s just that many people seem to be caught up in their own worlds to some extent. In spite of the vast number of people and our proximity to one another in terms of where we live, work, and play, there remains a “disconnect” that I find worrisome. People don’t interact with one another like they do in other places I’ve lived, especially the midwest. There isn’t nearly as much emphasis on midwest core values like family, church, “neighborliness”, active school involvement, volunteer programs, and even something simple as helping each other day-to-day, both emotionally and intellectually. I realize there’s key differences from what I’ve been used to “back home” in Kansas and maybe I’m comparing apples and oranges. Still, there’s something lacking with that “sense” and the sad part is, people aren’t even aware of what they’re missing out on since that lifestyle has been ingrained for so long. That aspect is nearly identical to what it was in the late 70’s and early 80’s when I lived here. The lifestyle seems all about “me”. My car, my looks, my fancy house, my beach, and on and on.
Of course, in a smaller town environment, many of the lifestyle habits I’ve mentioned are borne out of absolute necessity, if for no other reason than to avoid being so isolated. Here, there’s SO much more to do; beaches, shopping, concerts, pro sports, theme parks, etc. What happens then is when people have their own “down time”, they go off and “do their thing” with no real regard for anyone else. It’s almost “snooty” to an extent. I’ve found many people think that since they live in “paradise” and have all these extra stimuli to draw on, it somehow makes them smarter or better than anyone else. I know on the surface that sounds extremely judgmental and I’m sure to catch hell for it but the fact is, it’s the truth!
In fact, I’m amazed at the number of my facebook friends who either live here, or did at one time, how they miss some of the “community spirit” they see from some of the things I’ve shared with them; harvest time in the heartland, waving at each other as we pass one another on roads or streets, and giving a helping hand to any one, any time, any where. They say this to me privately but God forbid if they want everyone else to know it. I call it “style over substance.” I despise that concept. There’s a lot of shallowness, superficial values, and hidden agendas everywhere. But, don’t get me wrong, there are certainly exceptions, as there are everywhere else in America. Still, those souls that I’ve encountered who have or believe in some of the same community core values as I, have in nearly every instance solid midwest roots. Or, they’ve even come from other countries outside the U.S. I can think of at least 3 or 4 whom I have had the pleasure of getting to know that have this “substance” about them that I find attractive. I relish that and hold on to it as much as possible.
When I came here in March, I was aware of this lack of “sense of community” since it was something I myself lost in my values as a young man living here long ago. Now that I’ve been on “walkabout” for 27 years and have come back with a mountain full of knowledge, experience, and wisdom, it makes it far easier for me to be able to see things clearly.
I’m just one man though. And a humble one at that. Simple, transparent, and with no pretense. I’m sure there are others and it is my fervent desire to make contact with them in hopes of becoming good friends and “neighbors.” That’s what hasn’t changed here in Southern California, the utter lack of “sense of community.” It’s sort of disheartening in a way and there’s really nothing I can do about it other than planting the seed here and there as I journey among those living in “paradise.”
  1. Backatcha "wmfarms!" You've made many excellent points but allow me to expand on a couple. First, you're right, we have to WANT that community spirit first, regardless where we are. And yes, volunteering is already in the works here in a couple of ways. The other "sense of community" is simply this very blog we are on. This is EXACTLY what I intended or at least hoped it would be!
    You've said one other thing that really hits home; hiding and masking ourselves behind closed doors. Choose whatever reason you want but PRIDE and FEAR are primary reasons for doing so. From a very personal standpoint, once I dropped once was an impenetrable wall of pride, doors flew open in ways I never could have imagined. And FEAR is only "False Evidence Appearing Real."
    Finally, let me describe something about your father and the things you and society have done and why with respect to hiding. It took me a long time to grasp this concept. Here's what I mean: Say you were standing on a crosswalk near a busy street with many people going by and you're there only to take a poll of 100 people. Here's 2 questions to each one. "What would you say if I told you that person over there has malignant breast cancer?" My guess is their response would be, "how sad, I hope she gets treatment, I'm sure there are doctors for that, and she can be cured." Your next question is "what would you say if I told you that person over there is an alcoholic?" My guess there is they would say something like, "What the hell is wrong with him? Doesn't he have any will power? Doesn't HE see what HE is doing to himself and his family?"

    Point being is BOTH people have a disease. Both are treatable but both have to CHOOSE to want to get well and seek treatment. The difference is how SOCIETY looks at each, or at least how they USED to "back in the day", that being with your father. The first one we feel sorry for and hope they have a damn good doctor. The second one we look down upon in scorn and those that are close to him know others see it this way so, instead of acting the same way as we would with the one who has cancer, we hide it in shame. It's a DISEASE, no different than cancer.

    Thank you very much for your thoughts and encourage anyone else that are "following" this thread to offer your own or suggest it to others to join. Like I described this website and blog on my "Gusto" facebook page to begin with. It's about US.

  2. Morning Gusto,
    Miss you on facebook. Of course I totally understand about sense of community, but even our here you have to 'want' to belong to have that fulfilled. A couple of my kids have moved to the city and they find their sense of community at their workplace, at church,(however, if it's a large church you have to become involved in small groups), in their kids schools, esp. if they volunteer there. If, after your schooling, you get involved in some kind of volunteer work, you'll probably find it there. There are several dynamics at work in the sense of community or lack of it. Being by ourselves helps us hide and mask who we are and what we are afraid of. We all know that doesn't fit you at all.;) I think unless you've been around a sense of community, you just don't even understand the concept. Our society teaches us that life is all about us and that leaves no room for anyone else. That is one reason why we have such a hard time with relationships. It is a sad thing to see, esp. when you know the benefits it can bring and when you don't have anything to hide anymore it's beneficial to the soul. What we don't understand is that it is very beneficial when we do have things that we think need to be hidden. If we can find people who are 'safe', who will love or like us unconditionally, then we can dump the things we keep hidden and can become more healthy to ourselves and others.
    My dad was an alcoholic, and we kept that hidden very well. People hide all kinds of things ranging from what we consider big 'sins' to small personality flaws that we think will keep people from accepting us. We all just really want to fit in, isn't it ironic that sometimes that alienates us.
    Gotta quit rambling now and go get on the tractor! Keep being open and smile alot and I'm sure people there will respond to that, maybe not most but you will find the ones you need to find. Mel

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