Work has been maligned for far too long. Everything in our lives today is designed to make life easier, correspondingly, our minds and bellies have become soft and lazy. There is a sharpness to both body and mind when engaged in work--real work, not the mind-numbing motions through which most of us go in the course of our daily employ. When we really set our minds to something or push our bodies to perform, how engaged are we in what we are doing with the entirety of our being focused on the task at hand?
When when we fall into the trap of craving ease and coddling ourselves with comfy recliner chairs and big screen TVs hawking intellectual vacuity and material excess, we turn inward in a way that does not facilitate introspection, but rather narcissism. It's all about me me me me me me me! That is no way to create or sustain a community. People wax nostalgic about bucolic small town life where people know their neighbors, take care of their homes, and have real community, but act as though such a way of existence is no longer possible.
I live in the middle of the city and I know my neighbors. I live in a community of people who are kind and generous, who open their homes to newcomers, break bread and raise a glass. People who work on their homes, plant flowers, and grow vegetables to sustain their families and share with neighbors.
Do you know how you get that? Work. Selflessness. You know how it starts? With you. With one person saying hello. One person smiling and dropping a note or some cookies for the new family. One person to collect e-mail addresses, put up a website, start a neighborhood association, organize a block party. One person to shovel a sidewalk that isn't theirs, offer a hand, share--time, resources, recipes.
If what we want are real and meaningful relationships with the people around us, if what we want are communities, neighborhoods, cities, and a nation served by honest people making good decisions, not just for us now, but that serve both us presently and future generations by making sustainable financial decisions, building infrastructure to meet the needs of the community over time and maintaining it so as to avoid future catastrophe, both physical and financial, then we must become willing to take a risk and believe that our good is also another's good and that her good is also ours. We must base our deliberations not on what is good and easy for me, but what is good and right for the community as a whole for the long-term. We must take responsibility for the problems we face, whether or not we created them. We must take responsibility for educating ourselves and we must invest time, money, and energy in making things right.
So many people act as though these idyllic communities only existed in the distant past, and only because back then people clearly just had superior moral character and life was simpler and add your own excuse here... Mind you, such places probably never existed as they do in the reverie of modern nostalgists, but to the extent that they did, it was not on account of people back then just being so gosh darn better than us. It is possible to make such a place. If you want one, turn off your TV, open your blinds, roll up your sleeves, and get to work.
It won't be easy, but it just might be the most rewarding thing you do in your life.
A Vision (Wendell Berry)
to stand like slow-growing trees
on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it,
if we will make our seasons welcome here,
asking not too much of earth or heaven,
then a long time after we are dead
the lives our lives prepare will live
there, their houses strongly placed
upon the valley sides, fields and gardens
rich in the windows. The river will run
clear, as we will never know it,
and over it, birdsong like a canopy.
On the levels of the hills will be
green meadows, stock bells in noon shade.
On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down
the old forest, an old forest will stand,
its rich leaf-fall drifting on its roots.
The veins of forgotten springs will have opened.
Families will be singing in the fields.
In their voices they will hear a music
risen out of the ground. They will take
nothing from the ground they will not return,
whatever the grief at parting. Memory,
native to this valley, will spread over it
like a grove, and memory will grow
into legend, legend into song, song
into sacrament. The abundance of this place,
the songs of its people and its birds,
will be health and wisdom and indwelling
light. This is no paradisal dream.
Its hardship is its possibility.