As we age, an anniversary (a yearly remembrance of an event) can be a delightful experience. The remembrance of a wedding ceremony or the birth of a loved one or a celebrated day in our history conjures up happy thoughts, yet rarely moves us to significant action to improve our community. The remembrance of the death of a loved one or a catastrophic event (such as September 11th, 2001) evokes sad thoughts but sometimes moves us to make a difference. Events in Littleton, Colorado at Columbine High School back in 1999 reminded me of the ever-fragile balance in society between positive and negative influences. The young men in Littleton performed an isolated act of violence, but they lived in a culture that tends to accept intolerance and currently has difficulty dealing with conflict resolution.
The challenge with getting involved in our community is staying involved. No matter what you get involved with, things will change. We all want positive changes to occur. Yet we are all uncomfortable with change because it means we have to change also. It is difficult to stay involved with community activities when things evolve or change differently than we had envisioned. We shouldn’t accept change just because change is inevitable, but we do need to be willing to adapt.
Sometimes it is easy to get involved in projects in the community but to make a real difference we need to stay involved. Sages stay involved. They demonstrate the following:
- Commitment – It takes a significant effort to be committed to make a change in our community. Sustained effort demonstrates that commitment.
- Ownership – If we take “ownership” or personal responsibility for issues in our community, we become involved and stay involved because improvement means something to us. Difficult issues that we often avoid (such as teenage pregnancy or drugs) are now ours to deal with and to actively assist our fellow citizens.
- Investment – When we stay involved in our community, we are making an investment, a personal investment, in our community. And the exciting thing is that this investment is similar to a financial investment. With the proper investment of time and energy, there can be a substantial return on the investment. The result can be greater than our individual contribution.
- Asset-based community building – when we get involved in our community, we tend to look at difficult issues in a different light. We tend to look at our strengths or assets and try to build on those strengths instead of just complaining about problems. I think it is fine to recognize problems, but only if we are willing to contribute in a positive way to correcting these issues.
- Interaction – By staying involved in our community, we meet and interact with some amazing people – our fellow citizens. These interactions can be remarkably satisfying as we work together for our common good.
- Positive action – When we are involved, we are not passive. We are active participants. We aren’t sitting on the sidelines, waiting for someone else to do the work. We can take personal and community satisfaction in the positive changes that occur from our active participation.
As we age, we can choose to be elderly or become elders. In the former role, we tend to accept the physical and mental changes and just lament their presence as inevitable. In the latter role, we are not “age-ing” per se but hopefully “sage-ing.” As a sage, we are using our collective experience to help provide advice and potential wisdom to others. We have to be humble in the role of sage and recognize that our perceptions might be clouding or affecting how perceive the situation at hand. Just like we didn’t necessarily accept the advice of our elders when we were younger, the same might apply to our advice. Humility and compassion can be our guiding principles.