Hey LB: Do you like community and do you enjoy reading? Then check out this book, and let us know what you think. We would love to hear from you.
We have enough right here in LB despite all the talk of lack and scarcity. We need begin by getting to know one another’s gifts and passions. We need to be willing to learn from one another and teach one another. We need to create quality time for one another, not just events and entertaining guests, but conversation that builds trust and allows for honesty and vulnerability.
This is the “Heart” of We Love Long Beach. We invite you to the table to break bread and sup with us, because we need each other more than we ever thought, hoped, or dreamed. We need to invite one another into the mess and joy that is our lives at times, to be welcomed, listened to, and accepted.
Maybe this book and others can be the hinge to the door that opens up our lives to one another. It might be a place where we sense, maybe even for the first time belonging and love. These things take time and patience, but in the end what could be better?
Wendell Berry's 17 Rules for a Sustainable Community
Wendell Berry’s 17 Rules for a Sustainable Community
Wendell Berry is a strong defender of family, rural communities, and traditional family farms. These underlying principles could be described as ‘the preservation of ecological diversity and integrity, and the renewal, on sound cultural and ecological principles, of local economies and local communities:
1. Always ask of any proposed change or innovation: What will this do to our community? How will this affect our common wealth.
2. Always include local nature – the land, the water, the air, the native creatures – within the membership of the community.
3. Always ask how local needs might be supplied from local sources, including the mutual help of neighbors.
4. Always supply local needs first (and only then think of exporting products – first to nearby cities, then to others).
5. Understand the ultimate unsoundness of the industrial doctrine of ‘labor saving’ if that implies poor work, unemployment, or any kind of pollution or contamination.
6. Develop properly scaled value-adding industries for local products to ensure that the community does not become merely a colony of national or global economy.
7. Develop small-scale industries and businesses to support the local farm and/or forest economy.
8. Strive to supply as much of the community’s own energy as possible.
9. Strive to increase earnings (in whatever form) within the community for as long as possible before they are paid out.
10. Make sure that money paid into the local economy circulates within the community and decrease expenditures outside the community.
11. Make the community able to invest in itself by maintaining its properties, keeping itself clean (without dirtying some other place), caring for its old people, and teaching its children.
12. See that the old and young take care of one another. The young must learn from the old, not necessarily, and not always in school. There must be no institutionalized childcare and no homes for the aged. The community knows and remembers itself by the association of old and young.
13. Account for costs now conventionally hidden or externalized. Whenever possible, these must be debited against monetary income.
14. Look into the possible uses of local currency, community-funded loan programs, systems of barter, and the like.
15. Always be aware of the economic value of neighborly acts. In our time, the costs of living are greatly increased by the loss of neighborhood, which leaves people to face their calamities alone.
16. A rural community should always be acquainted and interconnected with community-minded people in nearby towns and cities.
17. A sustainable rural economy will depend on urban consumers loyal to local products. Therefore, we are talking about an economy that will always be more cooperative than competitive.
Enhancing the Lives of Others: Reflections on Long Beach's Recent Tragedies
Our city is overwhelmed with grief and exhaustion in the wake of the recent local and global tragedies. The aftermath of the recent tsunami in Japan continues to
transpire, resulting in catastrophic loss for thousands of people and incomprehensible destruction for thousands more. However, it is not the perplexity of the event that keeps many of us from fully understanding the gravity of these recent events; it is our proximity. Distance leaves us out of reach, and often out of touch. We feel compelled to help, but also limited in how we can lend tangible support to those who are experiencing these calamities first hand. As a society, we tend to impulsively throw money at things that we can’t fully comprehend. And while giving money may not bring us any sense of understanding, human loss that occurs close to home allows us to better empathize on a smaller scale with those who are dealing with the tragic aftermath in Japan.
Two weeks ago, the lives of five influential men from Long Beach were lost in less than 24 hours from each other. First came the news of the death of 41-year-old legendary hip-hop singer Nate Dogg, whose impact spans both on a local and global level, having contributed immensely to the world of hip-hop music. Then came word of Wilson High School’s beloved art teacher, Rick Vandruff, who lost his brave battle with a rare brain disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob. And, finally, a plane crash occurred at Long Beach Airport that claimed the lives of five men, three of them with local ties: Long Beach native Mark Bixby and Long Beach businessmen Jeff Berger and Tom Dean.
A powerful community depends upon its members’ willingness to step outside themselves and stand in the shoes of their neighbors. A name for this ability is “empathy.” It is the essential bridge that changes the person next door from a resident into a neighbor. Without empathy, we would have neither friends, neighbors nor a community.
The Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan recently completed a review of 72 studies of empathy among American college students. Each study used the same standardized test. The Institute found that in the last 20 years there has been a drop of 40 percent in empathy among U.S. college students.
We asked this design director at visualade.com what inspires her as an artist in the city.
“The people of Long Beach is what inspires me. Whether it’s the mid-western nobody who settled here to make themselves a somebody, the small business owners that are barely making ends meet, or the community of people that are trying to improve the city. They are my everyday motivation and inspiration.”
I realize as I get older that I have difficulty meeting so called normal people. I don’t know what to talk about with them. But I can fool around at the dinner table with people with disabilities. I see that I am becoming a bit marginalized. I know that it is important to speak of the wider world, but it is not always easy to live in two worlds. In the wider world I speak about the people in my home and the fun we have. I talk about the discovering that the important thing is to be with people with disabilities, to rejoice with them, to celebrate life and have fun. A lot of people know how to drink whiskey and go to the cinemas, but they don’t know how to celebrate. To celebrate is to say we are happy together.
I have been trying to point out that our deep need is to meet those on the other side of the wall, to discover their gifts, to appreciate them. We must not get caught up in the need for power over the poor. We need to be with the poor. That can seem a bit crazy because it doesn’t look like a plan to change the world. But maybe we will change the world if we are happy. Maybe what we need most is to rejoice and to celebrate wit the weak and the vulnerable. Maybe the most important thing is to learn how to build communities of celebration. Maybe the world will be transformed when we learn to have fun together. I don’t mean to suggest that we don’t talk about serious things. But maybe what our world needs more than anything is communities where we celebrate life together and become a sign of hope for world. Maybe we need signs that it is possible to love each other. -Jean Vanier
When family members do not work or live well together we sometimes call the family dysfunctional. We prescribe professional help for the family or advocate for social policies that would support it—child care, parental leave, extended unemployment insurance, debt forgiveness.
But the real challenge to the family is that it has lost its job. The functions of the family have been outsourced. The problem is not dysfunction—that’s just a side effect. The problem is non-function, and this has much to do with the growth of the consumer society.
Creating a more community-based way to live and find satisfaction, even when surrounded by a consumer culture, requires only that we act as if each of us has what we need.
The cost of our transformation into consumers is that the family has lost its capacity to manage the necessities it traditionally provided. We expect the school, coaches, agencies, social workers, probation officers, sitters and day care to raise our children. The family, while romanticized and held as a cultural ideal, has lost its function as the primary place to raise children, sustain health, care for the vulnerable, and ensure economic security.
The Rise of Neighborhood Incompetence
The neighborhood has also lost its function. Our neighborhoods and communities are no longer able to support the family in its efforts. In most cases, we are disconnected from our neighbors and isolated from our communities. The community and neighborhood are no longer competent.
A competent community provides a safety net for the care of a child, attention and care for the vulnerable, the means for economic survival for the household, and many of the social tools that sustain health. The community, particularly the neighborhood, has the potential to provide the extended support system to help the family in all these key functions. The usefulness that used to reside in the neighborhood is now provided by the marketplace.
Outsiders Raising Children
“It takes a village to raise a child” is an African saying repeated as a matter of faith by American leaders of all persuasions. Yet most of our children are not raised by a village. Instead, they are raised by teachers and counselors in school, youth workers and coaches out of school, juvenile therapists and corrections officials if they are deviant, television and computers and cell phones if they have spare time, and McDonald’s if they are hungry. What this means is that the space that the family and neighborhood once filled has been sold and is now filled with paid professionals, electronic toys, and marketing.
Until the 20th century, the basic idea in rearing children was that they become effective grownups by connecting with productive adults and learning from them the community’s skills, traditions, and customs. Youth learned from the community and had jobs to do: caring for the elderly and young, doing errands for the household, working on machines, helping with food. When they became adults, they were equipped to care both for the next generation and for those who had cared for them.
What we now know is that the most effective local communities are those where neighborhoods and citizens have reclaimed their traditional roles. The research on this point is decisive. Where there are “thick” community connections, there is positive child development. Health improves, the environment is sustained, and people are safer and have a better local economy. The social fabric of neighborhood and family is decisive.
Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods
Creating a more community-based way to live and find satisfaction, even when surrounded by a consumer culture, requires only that we act as if each of us has what we need. We have the gifts, structures, and capacities to substitute for our habit of consumption. We can decide to shift our attention toward building the functions of our family and neighborhood.
Here is a story of how this works, drawn from the real-life experiences of families from neighborhoods around the world that we have worked with.
Naomi Alessio and Jackie Barton were walking through the neighborhood, talking about being overwhelmed with work, meals, lessons, school, and especially the kids. Except, Naomi noted, her son Theron had begun to turn around.
Last summer, when Theron looked through the open door of the metalworking shop Mr. Thompson had set up in his garage, the old man invited him in. Something clicked. Theron began to stop by every day, and he started bringing home metal pieces he’d learned to make.
Naomi could see Theron change. He was proud of what he made—Mr. Thompson even paid him to make a few things. Naomi said she’d finally stopped worrying about what Theron was doing after school. Jackie admitted that her son Alvin was in trouble, and she asked Naomi if there might be someone in the neighborhood whose skills would interest Alvin.
They knew that Gerald Lilly was into fishing, and that Sam Wheatley was a saxophonist, but that was about it. They decided to ask all the men in the neighborhood about their interests and skills. Mr. Thompson agreed to go with them.
It took three weeks to visit all the men on the block. When they were done, they were amazed at what they had found: men who knew juggling, barbecuing, bookkeeping, hunting, haircutting, bowling, investigating crimes, writing poems, fixing cars, weightlifting, choral singing, teaching dogs tricks, mathematics, praying, and how to play trumpet, drums, and sax. They found enough talent for all the kids in the neighborhood to tap into. Three of the men they met—Charles Wilt, Mark Sutter, and Sonny Reed—joined Naomi, Jackie, and Mr. Thompson in finding out what the kids on the block were interested in learning.
When they got together after interviewing the kids, Mark talked about a boy he met who knew about computers. Why not ask all the kids what they knew about? Then they could match adults to the kids, just as they planned to match up the kids with the grown-ups. When they were done, they found they had 22 things the young people knew that might interest some adults on the block.
The six neighbors named themselves the Matchmakers and, as they got more experience, they began to connect neighbors who shared the same interests. The gardeners’ team shared growing tips and showed four families how to create gardens—even on a flat rooftop! Several people who were worried about the bad economy created a website where neighbors who knew about available work could post job openings. To give it some flair, they found people in the neighborhood to take photos for the site and gradually opened it up for all sorts of neighborhood uses.
Jolene Cass, for instance, posted one of her poems on the website and asked if there were other poets on the block. It turned out there were three. They began to have coffee, share their writing, and post their poems online.
Eleven adults and kids formed the Block Band, and neighborhood singers formed a choir led by Sarah Ensley, an 80-year-old woman who’d been singing all her life.
Charles Dawes, a police officer, formed a team of adults and young people to make the block a safe haven for everyone.
Libby Green had lived on the block for 74 years. The Matchmakers got two neighborhood teenagers, Lenore Manse and Jim Caldwell, to write down her stories about the neighborhood and post them on the website.
Then Lenore decided to write family histories for everyone on the block, and persuaded Jim and her best friend, Lannie Eaton, to help her record the histories and round up photos to go along with them.
Charles Wilt suggested a way for the Matchmakers to welcome newcomers to the neighborhood and begin to connect them with their neighbors: give them a copy of the block history and get information about the new family’s history, skills, and interests.
Three years later, at the annual block party, Jackie Barton summed up what the neighborhood had accomplished:
“What we have done is broken all the lines. We broke the lines between the men. We broke the lines between the women. Then the lines were broken between the men and the women. And best of all, the lines were broken between the adults and the children and between all of us and our seniors. All the lines are broken; we’re all connected. We’re a real community now.”
Seeing the Abundance in the Neighborhood
The story has the elements of what we can call a competent neighborhood. Creating competence starts with making visible the gifts of everyone in the neighborhood—the families, the young people, the old people, the vulnerable people, the troublesome people. Everyone. We do this not out of altruism, but to create the elements of a satisfying life.
This thickens the social fabric. It makes the community’s gifts more widely available in support of the family. If we do it, even in small way, we find that much of what we once purchased is at hand: carpentry, Internet knowledge, listening, driving a truck, math, auto repair, organizing ability, gardening, haircutting, wallpapering, making videos, babysitting, house painting, accounting, soccer coaching, artistic abilities, cooking, fitness knowledge, sitting with the old or the ill, health remedies, sewing. And some of those things will come from the elderly, the young, the isolated, and the unemployed.
With the consciousness of our gifts and the ability to connect them and make them practical and usable, we experience the abundance of a community.
These local connections can give the modern family what the extended family once provided: A place with a strong culture of kin, friends, and neighbors. Together we raise our children, manage health, support local enterprise, and care for those on the margin.
When we become competent again and have families reclaim their functions, we see emerging from our community culture those essential qualities of a satisfying life: kindness, generosity, cooperation, forgiveness, and the ability to live with our common fallibilities. These will all be given a home and nurtured by families who have reclaimed their function.