Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Responsibility to the community

This topic has been brewing in me for a few weeks. It involves the question of what responsibility does a person have when they belong to a community.

First, what is a community, and who defines it? Well, a community in rural areas (like this) might be defined as a town, a school district, or a county. In a larger city, it could be defined as a neighborhood, a sub division, maybe by interests and beliefs.

Almost everyone belongs to a community, possibly more than one. I suppose if you lived by yourself on the tundra of the Yukon you might have a rather dispersed community, but once in a while, you'd run into the same person again and find common items to share.

What benefits does one derive from belonging to a community? A number of tangible ones, including water, sewer, police and fire protection, roads, representation in government, etc. Intangible benefits include a sense of place, sharing of common happenings and events, like minded people to talk to, and more.

So, what responsibilities are there in belonging to a community? For the tangible ones, maintaining the benefits, such as paying taxes, fees, and dues as required. We may not like doing these things at times, but overall, they contribute to the well being of the community. For intangible benefits, attending meetings, participating in events, and being involved.

So, can one belong to a community, enjoy the benefits, and not participate in responsibilities? Yes, it's possible for some to "free load", but it's not sustainable, especially if too many do so. It puts a great amount of pressure on the few to provide to the plenty. Of course, not everyone is able to contribute equally, due to work, health, age, or involvement in other communities. But, in order for a community to be healthy and vibrant, all members should contribute what they can.

Of course, an extreme libertarian might say that one man is beholden to another, regardless of location or decision. However, when you decide to join a community to enjoy its benefits, responsibilities come with it, and so does a certain level of "service" to your fellow man to gain these benefits.

And, I am not talking about some sort of communist workers' paradise, either. Communities are not forced, or at least do not thrive and grow through outside coercion. Government has its place, but not to the point where it is intrusive and overbearing. A reasonable balance is necessary.

So, it bothers me when I hear certain individuals say they don't need to have a town, that they could get along without it, that it doesn't matter to them. If the main reason for existence is to farm large tracts of land or huge hog farms, then what need is there for a town? What use is a church? It just takes up valuable farm land. In fact, why do we need a fire department, roads, streets, sidewalks, and schools? There's certainly no need for clubs, town celebrations, and informal discussions over coffee, of course. Work is all that is required and needed, work to further a selfish goal.

There is more to life than building a bigger bottom line. There is peace and enjoyment of knowing your neighbors, interacting and sharing with them, and experiencing common opportunities. Yes, everyone can and should do their own "thing", such as employment, worship, family, politics, etc, but we must respect those things that are shared between us, that are the "glue" that hold us together. We gain benefits from this glue, this interaction, but in order to maintain it and keep it going, we have to put a little effort into it once in a while.

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