There is often much talk about “our community”, as though there was one voice and one intent for us all. Yet, our society, our culture, promotes the individual above all through the most blatant forms of capitalism and consumerism. Our national character is that of the independent man bowing to no one.
Webster defines “community” as “a unified body of individuals…with a common interest…” This would be any city, county, state, country or continent in the largest sense. Generally, we only actually come together for a common cause when calamity visits or our emotions are stirred by another kind of call to action.
These thoughts came to me as I read about the varied, mostly startled and angry responses to the recent Amber Alert which reached millions of us during the night.
The Amber Alert, you will recall is a statewide alert posted when a child is abducted. It came into being in 1996 as an attempt by federal and state governments to alert the public when a child has been abducted. The concern for the welfare of children is a natural characteristic of most mammals, especially humans. The alert is distributed nationally by just about every form of electronic communication from highway signs to smartphone calls.
The federal government has been trying to put together a national alert system since the disaster of 9/11, when chaos was the most conspicuous response. Simple question: “How do we let everyone know what’s happening, and how do we let them know how to take care of themselves?”
(Likely our Public Safety Division has information on how the IPAWS (Integrated Public Alert and Warning System) works and how we should respond to the various types and levels of alerts. Further, the city maintains a system which alerts locally to your phone – if you have registered the number with the city.)
But, here’s the rub: more complaints than praise came to the government when the alarms sounded. Of course, it was the middle of the night for most people and being rudely awakened upsets everybody. So, the system needs tweaking to find the best sort of alarm, but one which people will heed.
And here is my view of the idea of a general alert system: In short order, people will find ways to disengage from it and eventually will pay little attention to it if it is used too often. There probably should be levels of alarm depending upon the situation. Child abduction notice versus immanent earthquake warning, for instance, requires differing levels of interest and response.
Then, certainly, there is the old problem of self-interest versus community needs.
Other indicators of lack of a“ sense of community” would be the lack of interest in local politics by the general public as shown by the dismal number of registered voters who actually vote. To make matters worse, we have a Supreme Court which recently gutted the Civil Rights Act by allowing certain states to return to their onerous practices of preventing the poor, black and student elements of our population from easily registering and voting.
That Court has removed itself from the community by its actions and by its distance from the people. The same is to be said about our Congress, now wallowing in self-interest and blithely unaware of the ills in the greater community.
Our news media on the whole is more often concerned with staying in business and presenting PR releases as news.
Once, newspapers and radio stations were very close to the community. I would commend certain local papers, both print and digital for doing a better job than the regional “giants”.
Are you involved in any community group efforts, book clubs, knitting circles, garden clubs, marching bands, children’s activities, salons or discussion groups, political clubs, CERT?
How well do you know your neighbors?
Could you speak calmly to one who has loud parties about the disturbance or would you call code enforcement instead?
Involved in a neighborhood group or resident’s association? Red Cross volunteer?
All too often we find it difficult to reach out to others when they are not in need, but simply because they are there. WeHo is a city with many long-time residents. For instance, I have acquaintances in every area, mostly because I have lived here a long time, but also because they and I reached out to each other.
I have made several close friendships amongst my neighbors. We will shortly lose a dear neighbor to time and his need for simplicity as he moves away. He will leave a hole in our community.
Increase your standing in the community.