Monday, January 11, 2010

Community Cries Out For Someone To Care

By George E. Hardin | Published 10/29/2009 | Commentaries

Community Cries Out For Someone To Care

See the happy moron. He doesn’t give a damn.

I wish I were a moron. My God! Perhaps I am! – Dorothy Parker

American communities, and African-American communities especially, are threatened by a variety of issues that work against the achievement of a better quality of life. Many of these problems are the focus, on a minimalist level, of public agencies and programs, but the personal efforts of individuals who are concerned have historically been the dominant factor in addressing the issues that imperil our neighborhoods. And, indeed, those concerned about improving the social and economic conditions around them have always had much more work than they can handle.

Everywhere we look we see problems such as unemployment, injustice, poverty, failing students, corruption and child abuse. In political, religious, business and social circles there are greed, hypocrisy and incompetence. Under the circumstances, it is difficult to be indifferent. There seems to be a burning desire – especially among the young – to become involved in making things better for others as well as ourselves. This is where community involvement, the act of volunteering, becomes important.

Each of us is drawn to different causes. Some choose to work with under-performing children or the destitute elderly. Others make aid to the homeless their challenge. Many find satisfaction in trying to change the inequities that are part of the criminal justice system. A different group seeks to help those with medical and physical challenges.

Whatever route is taken, the path to helping others leads to better communities for us all. It is part of the American character to do something beneficial for the victims of outrageous misfortune, especially when they are children. To help is to affirm our own humanity and acknowledge that of those on the receiving end.

Often one excuse for not becoming involved is the lack of time. However, those who choose to work for the public good may not have any more time than others but they may have a greater degree of commitment. They may be animated by a sense of gratitude for their own good fortune.

President Barack Obama, while still a candidate, promoted volunteering and has continued to do so since taking office. Earlier this month he said in a speech:

“Government can build the best schools, with the best teachers, but we can’t run the PTA, or chaperon those field trips, or mentor those kids after school, or have them sit down and do their homework at night. We can pass the most comprehensive health reform bill – but Congress can’t be on the ground in our communities caring for the sick and helping people lead healthier lives…. In the end, when it comes to the challenges we face, the need for action always exceeds the limits of government. While there’s plenty the government can do and must do to keep our families safe, and our planet clean, and our markets free and fair, there’s a lot that government can’t – and shouldn’t – do. And that’s where active, engaged citizens come in. That’s the purpose of service in this nation.”

Obama emphasized he was not saying that only young people should do volunteering “for a year or two after college to put off getting a real job,” but citizens of all ages. He said, “Once you’ve tutored young people in a struggling neighborhood, it’s hard not to care about that ballot measure to fund their school. Once you’ve volunteered at a food bank it’s hard not to care about poverty and unemployment. Over time, the needs of the people you serve become your stake in the challenges of our time.”

Prophets’ doctrines and the wisdom literature of the world’s major religions enjoin us to identify with the least among us, to ease their pain and suffering. In keeping with those lofty ideas Dr. Seuss crafted a simple admonition for children: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Indeed, it is true as has been stated: “People don’t care how much you know; they want to know how much you care,” – especially when that caring attitude is translated into beneficent action.

(George E. Hardin worked as a photographer, reporter and editor, and in public relations during a long career before he retired. His column appears every other week.)

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