One of the major steps in community improvement lies in each citizen developing a personal responsibility for the activities in the community. We have to remember “systems thinking” – that everything has an impact on everything and that solutions are not created in a void. Long lasting solutions to community issues require “buy in” and involvement from all segments of our community. Solutions that are not truly integrated into all segments of the community and accepted by all are not viable in the long run.
Getting involved in our community in some tangible way is crucial for positive change. Change will only occur when citizens commit to get involved in the issues in their community. We are just fooling ourselves if we think that we can just let others or our government officials take care of the needs of the community. At best, they can assist with change, but we need to make it happen. The more we sit back and just let others do things, the less likely we are to affect overall positive change in our community. Dr. Robert Putnam has advanced the concept of social capital (good will, fellowship, sympathy, and social intercourse) as the glue that binds us together. We need to use that glue to make things happen.
How do we make it happen? If we follow the example of the dictionary, we’ll note the following attributes for the verb “involve” – connect, affect, engage, include, and envelop. As citizens, we connect with each other when we get involved. We affect our community in a positive way with involvement. We engage in tangible change when we vow to get involved. Involvement is not a solo activity and when we get involved, we tend toinclude others in our efforts. We envelop and embrace our community when we take positive steps to improve our community.
Getting involved means we understand we have a personal responsibility for what happens in our community. One might argue that we cannot be responsible for everything, especially the bad things that happen. However, we do have a responsibility to help correct any “problem” because this community is our community. We cannot correct everything that goes wrong in our family, but we can commit to helping with any problem that occurs. We have to—it’s our family. In a similar way, this community is our family, and we need to commit to personal involvement in its affairs.
We tend to just get involved with issues that affect us personally. In point of fact, almost everything that happens in our community affects us personally and demands our attention. Of course, we can’t get involved with everything so we need to concentrate on areas where we can lead to the most positive change. We should not be afraid to tackle issues that are out of our comfort zone where we can still make a difference. We should broaden our comfort zone and the community’s comfort zone as we try to advance positive changes.
I have continually stressed the importance of getting involved. Getting involved means doing something positive in our community. Getting involved means accepting personal responsibility for social issues. Getting involved means accepting our role as our brother’s keeper (but I prefer the term “helper” so we assist and empower those who are less fortunate). Getting involved means stepping out of our comfort zone to move forward for the good of our own community. In sum, getting involved means accepting the duty of service for others and our community. Our contributions can be incredibly varied, but we all have one goal in mind—the betterment of the lives of our fellow citizens.
Every citizen needs to recognize that any problem is their problem, that we have to be part of the solution, and that we need to be willing to use our energies to work toward the solution (using our resources). We cannot just sit on the sidelines, complain about the problem and then lament when things don’t improve. The problems – such as teenage pregnancy, drug use, intolerance, hatred, violence, insufficient first grade readiness, and poverty to name a few – require our personal investment.
I would argue that this concept pushes us in the direction of collective ownership of the good things in our community and collective ownership of the things-that-need-to-be-improved in our community.
- Collective – we’re really all in this together if we want to improve our community.I don’t know how we can improve our community if we don’t look at all aspects of our community. Businesses know that they are only as good as their “weakest link.” Communities should operate under the same principle. We must use all of our resources to bring up all segments of the community if we are truly committed to advancing a community.
- Ownership – To own community issues means to accept them as one’s personal responsibility.When we accept personal responsibility, we cannot rest until problems get resolved. Problems (or better named as things-that-need-to-be-improved) that are owned by individuals in the community and the community itself never get resolved. They just get pushed from desk to desk.
To improve our community, we must personally get involved by connecting with, affecting, engaging, including, and enveloping all aspects of our community. Any problems in our community are our own problems. Let’s not be shy. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get involved!