Tuesday, February 07, 2006

What I'm Learning...

Here is kind of a rant/thought session on Public Service. Hopefully it makes sense. Read this, cause there's another one to come about church and the involvement it inspires, but that is pretty heavily based off of this one....

A few terms: (these are mostly my definitions which are based off of my limited understanding of them)

Social capital: has been described as “social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them.” –think of it as anything arising from communication about community that can then enhance the surroundings of the world. This results from civic life and engagement.

Civic life: involvement in the community around you: any kind of action that is performed within a group of people for the eventual betterment of group or community.

Public Service: each person can define this as individuals. It may have to do with motives- why people do something (for the good of the country? Or for the salary?) or it may be simply the act itself (providing clean drinking water by working in a water treatment plant, being a doctor, teacher, nurse, politician, writing newspaper articles, etc).

Civic Engagement: this is when people actually get involved. The action- the verb. This could be (depending on your opinion, but here are some generally agreed upon) voting, joining the PTA or other group, belonging to or attending a church, working in government, reading the newspaper, keeping up on politics, etc. In many ways it can be seen as practicing democracy. It can also be as simple as having people over for dinner or stopping by a neighbor’s house to chat it up about the new Walmart.

The goal is not what you do- maybe you’re in a bowling league (which is one civic analyst’s famous example)- but you’re talking about your community, like the issues in the world, not just who’s dating who and what you’re having for dinner and “I love that shirt!”

In the days just after the Great Depression and the Second World War there was, as they now call it, “The Greatest Generation”—that is, a generation of people who connected, who communicated, who worked together. They had Sunday lunches in the park; they belonged to the PTA, the NRA, the Masons, the Elks, the Catholic Church. They read the newspaper, voted, and were more involved in ‘civic life’ than any generation that we know of. They, of course, lived in much different times, and it can be argued that in so many ways the catastrophe of the Depression and the War caused the people to bond together and take care of their common ground.

Since then, civic engagement has steadily decreased, to the point that people watch more hours of television a DAY than they spend conversing with others per WEEK. Why does this matter? The civic health has decreased in America. People are less trusting of each other, of government, of business, and of associations (especially lately with all the Red Cross blunderings, the Katrina ordeal, and about a thousand other reasons, of course).

Well maybe it doesn’t. I think it does. I’m just learning about all of this, but when you look at your life, how involved in your community are you? Here’s my question: How much social capital do you generate (how do you get involved- what do you do, what do you invest in, whom do you talk with about the ‘issues’? Do you think you’re involved “enough?” Do you want to be more involved? What is stopping you?

Just so you know, there are tons of reasons (and legit ones, not just the ol’ TV) why Americans aren’t getting as involved as they used to be. What do you think it is?

And my last question, which is convicting for me… if it’s a matter of time, or an “I’ll do it later,” when will you have more time than NOW? And who do you expect to, say, run the Red Cross and other non-profit organizations, become doctors, volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, invite friends over for dinner, if you don’t? My answer is developing….

3 comments:

Matthew said...

I dont vote cause I dont trust the government. I dont want them keeping tabs on me.

Ashley said...

nice matt nice, its so funny Claire that you bring up civic engagement. That is a lot of what I dealt with when I was the Volunteer coordinator at Weber. We met with other campuses and high schools students to promote civic engagement. So rock on girl!

Kim-Kim said...

When I read this, it reminded me of when we had a conversation about the government and the welfare system this summer during one of our meetings in the park,specifically answering one of Charles' questions about things pertaining to state jobs. I think I would like to say that I feel more involved in the community by the interaction of people I am talking to every day within my job, asking THEM how they can become a better asset to the society they live in, but I agree that it is hard to look at that aspect in myself. So what if I sing for the praise team and attend church every Sunday? So what if I engage in political debates at work during lunchtime, help out with Share the Harvest once a year, talk to people at the Family Support Center about adoption and abortion? HOW is that helping the society around me, especially since I feel it is so small scale. Is this civic engagement, or just something to occupy my time?
Good questions my dear!! I enjoyed reading your thoughts about this topic.