Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Loss of experience of community

by Will Hinton

I've been thinking about this idea of community for years and I can't quite put my finger on what has caused a general decline in the sense of community. Many people talk about the rise of suburbs or wealth as primary reasons but I think that those are but small contributing factors. Many of my friends grew up in suburban neighborhoods in Atlanta or elsewhere and had a tremendous sense of community. I know that I did in my prototypical suburban neighborhood. In my cul-de-sac infested suburban sprawl neighborhood, I have at one point been inside every single house in that neighborhood and dozens in surrounding neighborhoods. And not just those where my friends lived. There was a sense as a kid that I could get in almost as much trouble with another adult in the neighborhood as with my parents; parents weren't afraid to actually discipline other people's kids even if they hardly knew them. I have talked about these experiences with friends who grew up in other parts of the country, with friends who grew up in poverty stricken neighborhoods, and those who grew up around the country club and while the details may differ, the general experience of community was the same.

The two things that I have been able to point to as being primary contributors to the loss of community have been technology and the worship of individualism. I am as much of a proponent of technology as anyone, but I think in many ways it has had a corrosive effect on our society and community. While my generation was the first to play video games, my childhood memories are still primarily filled with thoughts of playing baseball or football in the neighborhood with friends. When is the last time that any of you saw a group of kids playing baseball or football in someone's yard in the neighborhood that appeared to be simply an impromptu normal activity? And this isn't just a childhood issue; these days little is thought of adults spending their free time playing video games or watching television in their secluded home theater. It is all these little things that start to steal what little community remains. No doubt that technology has done great things for people including myself. But in typical American fashion, we have gorged ourselves on technology without considering the impact on our community and culture.

Probably the biggest killer of community is our worship of individualism. And I think we (me) are all guilty of it. After all, who has the right to tell me how to raise my kids, live my life? It is nobody's business what I do with my property, my time, my resources. On the surface and in moderation, these ideas aren't all bad. But many Americans have elevated these to primary concerns. Ask yourself, what would your reaction be if a total stranger in a restaurant disciplined your child who was running around? And then think what your parent's or your grandparent's reaction would have been.

Interestingly, this is an area where Christians can positively impact our culture. Shouldn't we be giving ourselves away to our neighbors and our community? What would it look like if once a week or once a month we decided to do someone's yardwork for them or ring the doorbell and ask if we can get our neighbors anything from the grocery story? The crazy thing is that these "not-uncommon-things-years-ago" appear a bit weird and freaky, even counter-cultural these days. Well, isn't that what Christians are called to do and be?

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About Me

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I grew up in Chautauqua County, NY. I graduated from Edinboro University of Pennyslvania in 1981 with a BFA in Jewelry and Metalworking. I have been married 31 years. I currently run a small business with my husband. We both enjoy the outdoors and animals a great deal and live on a tiny farm in Western, NY.