Why community still matters

Sam Smith –  Six billion. That’s the number that’s been lounging  in my head in recent days, representing the current human population of the world and a figure that’s slated to increase by a third in a few decades. 

To get some idea of what this number means, the population of the United States is only about 5% of that number, our largest state, California, is less than one percent, and my town in Maine of 8,000 is an infinitesimal fraction. 

If you were taught by your parents that you should be a world leader, you might want to reconsider. After all, when you think about it, global affairs can be pretty grim, witness climate change, world wars and health pandemics. And much that leaves one feeling a bit empty

Those professing such status, say like Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin, are hardly the best role models. In fact, we follow the media approved aspects of global affairs while ignoring what gets little attention, such as the effect of population surge on climate change or that in places like the US the share of the population that is 65 or older has grown significantly while those 4 and under have declined. What is that world going to be like?

One other thing that we ignore is that humans are the only creatures on earth that know or care about what is going on with their species elsewhere in the world. For example, we have about 12 deer that regularly cross the field behind our house that have no knowledge of what the other 25 million deer in the country  are up to. 

But then deer are not trained to view life as many educators and media would have us do, namely the grander your perception of the world, the wiser and better the world and you are.

Reflecting on my own life I have found little proof of this. For example, during my many years in Washington DC, there were few figures on Capitol Hill I found to be truly memorable human beings. The truth is that while national phenomena like airplanes and the Internet can be quite admirable, you are more likely to find virtuous individuals just a few blocks away or on the other side of town. 

I learned this early as a radio reporter in DC. Some days I might cover a presidential news conference as well as a fire or a murder and almost inevitably the latter would seem more significant. In fact, when I add up the best moments in my life, the small and the human creep to the top – a neighborhood newspaper I edited, a term as an elected neighborhood commissioner, fifty-six years of marriage, working on a farm and serving as an officer on a small Coast Guard cutter. 

And there are human traits – such as decency, cooperation, community and honesty – that become far less important as we move on to the larger scale  They are replaced by institutions, bureaucracy, legal conflict, public relations and questionable power.

My point is not to urge you to give up your job in Washington, at the United Nations, or with some large non-profit but bear in mind that the most deeply human is not global, institutional, or procedural. It is personal and nearby. We are like those deer crossing our field. We are what we do next.