Posted by: justawriter | December 10, 2009

Far Afield – Making communities work

Everyone is busy. That’s a given in our day and age.
It’s funny though, how we seem to be busier now that we can feed ourselves by popping a mac-and-cheese in the microwave then when making a meal involved chopping wood or hauling coal, loading it into the stove and getting it lit, growing most of the meat and vegetables and preserving them. That was before you could even start cooking. I think it comes down to a phrase I once saw somewhere – people used to be as busy as they had to be, now they are as busy as they want to be. There is a big difference.
Inventors and scientists have done mighty works to take a lot of misery and drudgery out of our lives. The hand pump has given way to running water, which is often pumped hundreds of miles for our convenience. This week’s turn of the weather makes us all more appreciative of central heating and indoor plumbing. I doubt there are many in Beulah who spend days anymore turning pork into ham or cut dozens of heads of cabbage for a winter’s supply of kraut. The time those tasks used to take is a gift to us.
Of course, the same clever people have been even busier manufacturing new ways to pass the hours of the day. Media choices over the last 150 years have expanded from the printed word to the record player to radio to television. We are now at the point where we can spend as much for a 60-inch plasma TV as for a handheld smartphone. We are connected by cables, satellites, game boxes and facebooks. Sometimes it’s easier for someone in Beulah to find out what’s happening in Abu Dhabi than what’s up in Zap.
The time we spend with all our gadgets and gizmos is time we want to spend, not time we have to spend. The time we have to spend is spent at our jobs, with our families and supporting our communities.
It takes a lot of time and effort to make a community. By a community I mean a place where people come together to celebrate and make the place where they live better. It is the coming together that makes a place a community rather than just a bunch of people who happen to be in the same place.
Like a garden, a community needs constant tending. There are events in Beulah that are very important to maintaining itself as a community. Year after year, we all look forward to these celebrations. They bind generations together, creating a shared experience that brings us together when there are so many things that are pushing us apart. Without these strings to tie us together, it is just the nature of things that we will drift apart.
But community events don’t “just happen.” They take planning and coordination and work. If the work doesn’t get done, the event doesn’t happen. Work only gets done when someone takes the responsibility to do it. For events that come off year after year, someone has to agree to do that work year after year after year.
I’ve helped run a few organizations in my time. The thing that often worried me is what I called the “natural leader.” That’s the person who comes into an organization and is gung ho and willing to take on every task with gusto. Human nature being what it is, everybody else in the organization will gladly let them do everything from putting up the posters to washing the dishes afterwards.
The problem is, leaders get worn out, tired or old and don’t want to carry the weight of an entire group on their shoulders anymore. One day they say the word nobody in the group ever expects … “NO!” In many groups, that means the end of their events because nobody else ever learned how to run the organization.
Real leadership spreads the work around to as many people as possible. Not only do many hands make light work, when one of those hands finally becomes tired it is easier to recruit a new volunteer. It is easier to find someone to set up chairs or pour punch than to put on the entire show. As an added bonus, if you have an experienced pool of volunteers, it is easier to find someone to step up into a role with more responsibility than desperately seeking a new leader fresh off the street.
This past week, a community leader told me that one of Mercer County’s notable annual events after decades may be going by the wayside after decades of celebration. She told me the leaders are getting old and are tired of doing all the work themselves with no new blood coming into the group to lighten the load. It would be a shame to allow a distinctive shade in the fabric of our community to fade away entirely. So in this season of giving, take time to look around and see all the things that are making our town, our county and our region a better place to live and take the time to ask, “Can I give you a hand with that?”

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