By Dave Davis

These days, it’s so easy to fall into the trap of: “That’s okay, someone else will take care of the problem; no need for me to get involved.” Or maybe another trap, along the lines of: “What’s my 10 or 20 bucks going to do? It’ll barely make a dent towards the bigger goal.” 

With so many issues and causes to support out there, it’s no surprise that only about half of all Americans say that they’ve donated money to a charity in the past year, according to a recent poll conducted by YouGov. Far fewer people, approximately 25 percent, say they’ve volunteered with an organization or group.

Either way, the amount of time and energy spent on “community” as a whole has been declining rather precipitously over the past several decades. One might assume that this trend is limited to younger adults, whose in-person civic engagement has been traded in for a much more self-serving “aloneness,” typified by endless amounts of screen-time, mindless scrolling, and a social media-driven, entertainment-based values system. But that’s not the case entirely.

In a recent piece in The Atlantic, social-psychologist Jonathan Haidt places much of the blame on the social networks themselves, which tend to encourage self-promotion over civic engagement: “Once social-media platforms had trained users to spend more time performing and less time connecting, the stage was set for the major transformation, which began in 2009; the intensification of viral dynamics.”

What perplexes me most is that we have an opportunity to integrate many of these technological advances into our community-based programs, yet as a whole, many individuals and civic-minded leaders seemed to have dropped the ball in this regard. The ability to reach out to a geographic area, cutting across all differences of race, gender, ethnicity and income, should be something to cheer about. Yet, sadly, in many instances, it seems to have divided rather than united. 

That literally millions of “followers” can coalesce around a single cause or movement within a matter of minutes is rather daunting when you think about it. This is especially concerning when it comes to perpetuating a narrative that is malicious and hurtful.

When citizens of a community are engaged, especially while gathering face-to-face, they have the capacity to exchange ideas without the impediment of walls. Even the smallest of acts, such as transporting a fellow attendee who may be elderly or disabled to and from an event, lays the foundation for meaningful interaction. 

Uniting for a common cause, particularly when it’s within a specific context that affects the health and well-being of a community, changes the dynamic from one that is centered around “me,” to one which places a greater value on “we.” Or as Helen Keller once said: “Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much.”

That’s the beauty of civic engagement — it brings together people who not only have a common goal of addressing a particular issue, but each of those individuals comes to the table with a unique and valuable set of skills, which can then be applied. 

Through civil discourse, members of the community are able to exchange ideas, create a plan of action, and ultimately, produce an outcome that benefits the majority of those greatly affected. 

We may or may not see it in our everyday lives, but it is there, oftentimes behind the scenes. Food banks, soup kitchens, community gardens, beach clean-ups and other environmental causes are some of the places you find this kind of community. 

And sometimes, it’s using the technology that’s now available to create a GoFundMe account, in order to raise cash for an integral member of the community, who now faces an uphill battle of recovery after a debilitating injury. That, my friends, is the power of community.

Dave Davis is a retired preschool educator for the Head Start program based at the Children’s Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton, NY. He is also a frequent contributor to the popular educational podcast for elementary school-aged children called “Who Smarted?”

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Dave Davis
Dave Davis teaches preschool for the Head Start program based at the Children’s Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton, NY. He is also a frequent contributor to “Who Smarted?,” a popular educational podcast for elementary school children.

One thought on “Dave’s Desk@Ditch: The Power of Community

  1. The discussion of the Southold Hotel moratorium and people working together on the behalf of community issues underscores the need for concerned citizens to speak up and do their part to ensure the beauty of our town.

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