by Andru McCracken, Editor
When I was 21, I began travelling, and I had the chance to travel quite a bit. I was usually disorganized had plenty of opportunity to lose my way, break down, or otherwise get into trouble. Overall though, it instilled in me a sense that people are, generally, good, even in far flung places like Mexico City, and Mumbai. Yes, it’s often appropriate to have your guard up, but ultimately people are good. (If you have six hours I can tell you about the time I bartered a stolen knife back by being kind to a drug dealer’s kids in a city in northern Mexico.)
As far as I’m concerned, our valley’s much touted ‘sense of community’ needs special care and handling. If we misunderstand this vaunted phrase we could mismanage it. As a consequence it could vanish, and in some corners I believe it is vanishing.
First let’s define ‘sense of community.’ It is the feeling as individuals that we are cared about. It is also a sense that people around us are, on the whole, good. It is the sense that if something terrible was to happen to us or our family that others would help out. It is the feeling that we, as individuals, are deeply connected despite our differences.
A great analog is temperature. The temperature of the air outside is actually the measure of a whole bunch of molecules in the air.
What we are actually talking about when we speak about community spirit is a measure of good interactions between individuals. Individual acts of goodwill and kindness or lack thereof define the magnitude of ‘sense of community.’
A single molecule vibrating with rigour does not make the temperature warm. A sense of community is dependent on more than individual acts of goodwill and kindness. Every community has super nice people doing super thoughtful things, but that’s not what makes a ‘sense of community.’
What creates a sense of community then? I think it’s a widespread trust. I think that trust comes from the belief that people are fundamentally good.
Being in a small community gets things started. We trust our neighbours because we have repeat interactions. We get a pretty good understanding of them, and if when we can look objectively at their actions we see they are much like us and have many of the same hopes and dreams as us. It all builds trust.
Trusting that the people in your community are, in essence, good, is even more powerful than individual acts of kindness. Why? We all take cues from our friends and colleagues about who to trust. Trust is grown.
I’m going to leave you with three thoughts:
- Good deeds included, if we sew the seeds of distrust, what’s our net contribution?
- Does everyone in the community get an equal share of our sense of community?
- Are there people in the community that you don’t trust? If so is there an opportunity to build trust?