by Rhonda D. Loucks
I hear a lot of gripes about not being able to find enough help. It doesn’t matter if it is a school or church or community group, everyone is always complaining about not enough involvement. Is this an exaggeration? Do you not hear the same thing? I guess there are two questions here. One, Is it true that people really don’t want to get involved anymore? And two, if it is true, then why don’t they? I know these are related questions, but I am thinking that the answers might be very different.
I have spent the last decade living in a very small community. You know, where my family is literally one twentieth of the population. When I moved there from the big city it was like taking a step back in time. Now I don’t want you to start singing the Gilligan’s Island theme song, but there were not many luxuries. Not much privacy; let’s just say that everyone knew you on sight and the names of everyone in your family. There was one small restaurant that was open only at meal hours on the days you wouldn’t be working or in church. We had one stop light but if you got caught running it the officer (borrowed from the next town over) would stop you and then warn you because he couldn’t issue a ticket since the town didn’t have any sort of court system (and they didn’t believe in out-sourcing). No market, but everyone could ask anyone to borrow almost anything. And it didn’t matter if the address was complete or not on an envelope because the mailman knew everyone by their first name and exactly where to deliver a letter. And no one served on committees, because there just weren’t any.
If that sounds negative to you, then you and I don’t read things the same way. Do you see that I said everyone cared about everyone and always had their backs? Did you see that I said that honesty and integrity still stood for something and just a warning was enough? Did you see that there was no need for committees because, for the most part, everyone participated in just about everything? Now don’t get me wrong. There was plenty wrong in that small town. But there was a comradely attitude in that community that most people haven’t experienced except in their grandparents’ old stories.
In contrast, I had moved from a big city where people only knew the small group of others that they had something in connection with, like a Little League sports team or a committee at the church. Violence is higher because it is easier to do harm to an unknown than to a familiar face. With that same sort of unfamiliarity, integrity and honesty seem to get misplaced. And in some situations abusing them becomes more the norm than the exception. Mailmen have no real knowledge of the correlation between where and whom the envelope is delivered. And yes, there are restaurants and markets and gas stations open 24 hours a day with their lights and noise and pollution of atmospheric peace. Of course there are positives. Did you hear me say that no one knows you? And that there are restaurants and markets and gas stations open whenever you might need them?
But the small town I lived in, which seemed to be from another century, did not beg for help the way that groups in the big city did. So, why? Was it that not as many people are needed? Well, that’s true, but you have to consider the ratio. And in proportion, there would need to be the same percentage of volunteers to put a project together. So things like VBS, community shows and holiday assistance programs for the poor still needed coordinators and supporters and laborers. Yet, there was always more than enough help in this small town. And, people seemed to be very positive in attitude when helping. I have seen this sort of “small town” help in the big city. And, in fact, I still do. But mostly, it seems to take a lot of tugging to get people involved. This, I believe, leads us to the root of our question and then offers an answer.
At some point along the way, maybe in the last generation or the generation before that, I believe that the spirit of humanity (along with integrity and honesty) truly got misplaced. How is that possible, you ask? Well I know that there are scientists and psychologists that already know this and have complicated verbiage to offer its proof. But here we are, the common man, and we need to understand what is happening to our world that is causing this un-involvement. We need to know what it is that we are doing, or not doing, that has promoted such resistance to the communal acceleration of mankind. Simply, I think the answer is that we do not make the effort to know each other.
Is it possible that because we do not spend the time and energy getting to know someone that we have separated ourselves from the lives and concerns of others? If I was feeling down for any reason in our small town, someone would know. They would either see me out and about and not looking my happy, healthy self, or they would notice that I hadn’t been out that day. Now you may think this is an exaggeration, but I can honestly tell you that I have been phoned and asked these very words, “Are you okay? ‘Cause usually by now on Tuesday you already have a couple of loads of laundry on the line.” And, yes sir, that kind of “I notice you and your life and am concerned about you” living and communicating happened all the time.
Just suppose that no one noticed. That no one cared enough to see why I hadn’t gotten the laundry out, joined the club, signed up to help with the project, included my child on the team. What happens to the human spirit when no one notices, or worse, does notice and then doesn’t make an effort to let anyone know they noticed? I believe the human spirit dies a little. It has a tendency to turn inward; to build a wall of scar tissue around the little tiny wound and tend to itself. And when we neglect or misplace that human spirit, even for a moment – a cycle is started.
We are wounded in the slightest, so we pull-in to protect ourselves. Then we are less noticeable. The next time a task or team or project sign-up comes around, we are less likely to be missed, and more likely to shield ourselves from potential rejection. At least that’s what it feels like: rejection. So we say things to ourselves like “Let’s see if they notice me this time. Let’s see if they notice that I am not there.” And, we set ourselves up to not be noticed, because we are hiding. And it intensifies. More and more human souls are wounded. Fewer and fewer people are signing up/coordinating/always involved. Have you heard the familiar complaint that the same people are always signed-up for everything/the same people always do everything? If that statement isn’t true, then why do we have a whole market of self-helps to avoid “Burn-out” yet we still burn out? And while we are burning beyond the heat that we can stand, so many others are sad because no one wanted them to be involved.
Now I wish I could offer you some sort of proof. But all I can say to you is that I believe this to be true, mostly because I have been on both sides of it. And, I believe you have been too. I have served on a committee that while complaining that no one wants to help is also not willing to call on certain people – a lot of certain peoples – to help. I remember working on a particular community project and being told that we shouldn’t even waste our time contacting that particular church because “they never help.” And yet, I knew some of those people by means of a different connection and they always volunteered to help. I don’t think it was indifference; I think it was a reputation built on misplacement. Also, I myself have been very sad when a project went public and I had not even known about it, let alone been given the chance to be involved. This is especially true when it involves my loved-ones or was in an area where I could have really used my gifts.
Is there some way we can live in the luxuries and conveniences of a big city of our time and age and still maintain the human spirit that is valued and practiced so highly in a small town or an age gone by? When the young man delivering the 27 tons of sand for my garden got out of his truck today I moved fast to meet him. I greeted him and asked him his name. He looked scared to death. I think he thought I was calling his manager and that he was in trouble. I could see him scanning the yard to identify if he had killed a lawn statue or driven over sacred grass. Actually, ìI just wanted to meet the driver who made the much-curved effort to back that semi around the propane tank and shop building to get as close to the garden as I had hoped. Obviously he was not use to driver/costumer communication especially the excited, positive kind. He left with a smile on his face that sort of said, “That was pleasant but weird.”
So what other things can I do to be weirdly pleasant? What other things can I do that will help me make a real connection to others around me? Iím not talking about random acts of kindness – believe me, that campaign was wonderful and is definitely something that you and I should already be doing: changing a lady’s tire, meals for the ill down the block, raking leaves for the old man next door and so many others. Acts of kindness are so important in turning our world to Christ. But, I am talking about finding the misplaced human spirit; connecting to others with real concern. I am talking about a new campaign – Behaviors of Real Concern; Living Like You Believe Others are Real People and that They Really Matter. Okay, that title is a little long and won’t fit on a bumper sticker, but you understand what I mean.
So, I’m going to learn the names of the people on my block and call them by name every time I see them. And, I’m going to look right at them instead of past them. I’m going to ask people about their day, and then I’m going to stand there with their hand in mine until they tell me (something I noticed about the amazing behavior of my husband’s grandfather). I am going to make mental notes of things like when my neighbor walks his dog and I’m going to be in the front yard, just to say hi. I am going to ask people about their gifts and watch for their attendance in committees and on projects. I am going to recommend people for positions and call them to sign-up and personally invite them to participate. And when they want to do something different or expand the project even tremendously, I’m going to be the source of personal encouragement instead of asking what this new plan will cost me.
And when something seems just a little off, well, I’m going to tell them that I noticed they weren’t there and ask them if they are okay. Iím not going to think about it or wait to see if someone in the “right position” is going to do it. I’m going to live like it is my responsibility alone to make sure people feel that someone notices them. Because everyone has something to contribute; everyone does matter. And although no one can do this, or anything on their own, if we all took on this very notion of single-handed intent imagine the difference we could make.
Pleasant but weird! That’s how I am going to live. I am going to find my misplaced humanity. And I challenge you to do the same. For the sake of our world, for the sake of reaching the lost, for the sake of our children and the generations to come: live like you care. Build community and unity. Work together and share together. Over-communicate instead of under-assume. Remember that behind each face is the heart of a human soul created in the image of God to be in communion with someone else. Let’s build up each other with the positive living that comes from feeling noticed and loved. Letís act like Christ and live our lives completely spent on each other.
Rhonda D. Loucks is an author, wife, mother, Sunday School teacher and member of Wichita First Church of the Nazarene. More of her writings are available at uncutobedience.com.