Community has been something that has been a significantly influential element of my life so far, and something that (as I am sure many writers can relate to) has created such a sense of writer’s block because words simply cannot describe how living in a small town has changed my life for the better.
I grew up visiting my grandparents at their cabin in a small town called Ronald, near Cle Elum in Central Washington, with a current population of 308. I always marveled at the serene landscapes that surrounded their mountain home. This love for the area shifted into an appreciation for short grocery store lines when I chose to go to college in a nearby town and has since translated into my love for small business development and a single song commute to work in the morning.
Growing up in Western Washington, just south of Seattle, I watched as technology, overpopulation, and business development changed the area. Traffic times became so bad that Seattle employees that could not afford to live in the city would have to wake up at 4 am to get to work on time. My high school became so over-packed that we had to break up lunch into several sessions, and even then, students would sit in the hallways and picnic tables outside because there was not nearly enough room in the cafeteria.
The difference was in the minor, daily ways I would watch people interact with each other. I watched the small talk between cashier and shoppers that used to be a short moment of connection dwindle and die out like a bonfire once everyone has gone to sleep into a simple “would you like a bag?”. What happened to the personal element behind the small interactions we have with others?
This stems from America’s decline in trust for each other, but I think that it goes beyond keeping your curtains closed at night and walking your kids to the bus stop. I think it also is magnified because of the fact that we have tunnel vision on our own families. In a world where both parents have to have full-time jobs and side hustles simply to put food on the table, we are more exhausted than ever, focused on just getting by.
There is an obvious shifting trend away from community involvement, due to the emergence of online communities, and the fact that people are focused on providing for their families, often with fear of job security in mind. We have turned the community model of caring for each other’s lives and being cared for in return to a lonely fixation solely on our own little world’s needs.
Communities are also losing their importance because of a lack of volunteerism and eagerness to get involved. According to Phys.org, The percentage of Americans who contribute time and money has fallen to its lowest point in two decades.
“As a nation, we must commit resources and time to the challenging work of putting more Americans back to work improving and engaging with their communities,” said Robert Grimm, director of the Do Good Institute.
“Continued declines in community participation will produce detrimental effects for everyone, including greater social isolation, less trust in each other, and poor physical and mental health,” Grimm said.
Simple mindfulness and stepping outside of our own head gives us an opportunity to give back. Giving back leads to community, community leads to trust. We cannot stop how fast the population is skyrocketing, but we can change the way we interact with one another because of it. People crave community, care and connection.The human race is social, we are created to be involved together and help each other. Try helping a senior to their car at the store or letting a driver in front of you and watch the chain reaction begin. It is easy to find an opportunity to give up when we pick our gaze up off of our shoes and look outside of our routine.
Since being in a smaller town in the mountains, I feel more connected to the bigger world than ever. I am a small part of a community that cares about the quality of life for each member involved, and it encourages me to be a better community member myself. It adds a human element of checking in on how others are doing and relating to anyone, and this care and compassion fills the air, like taking a long inhale of much needed clarity. I will leave you with a quote by Cesar Chavez…
“We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community… Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.”