"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Picnic on the 4th: Good for you & the USA

By on June 25, 2019 in Columnist with 0 Comments
June Darling

“You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics…” 

— Erma Bombeck

By June Darling

In 1993 Sociologist, Amitai Etzioni, said that contemporary Americans have both a “strong sense of entitlement” and a “weak sense of obligation to the local and national community.” 

In 2019 pundits continue wringing their hands over the problems associated with too much “me-ism” — suicide, loneliness, alienation, drug use, mass shootings, breakdown of the family, rampant consumerism and the general ripping apart of society’s fabric. 

Here’s the irony, much of our personal happiness and health rests on dialing back our individualism and ramping up our “we-ism.” 

This somewhat paradoxical message about how to live the good life is not coming only from sociologists, but also from psychologists and physicians who are telling us to get connected to each other — not just for the sake of society, but also so that we can thrive as individuals. 

To be clear, the easiest way for me to live a bad life is to be all about me. 

The flip side is that if I want to flourish, then I need to figure out ways to engage with others in big and small ways most of the time. 

When we start connecting with each other, we start caring about each other. When we care about each other, we start feeling safe and happy. We begin to reach out to others outside our clan. We start building an ethereal entity, a spirit; a spirit of belonging to each other on a larger scale. 

Many people have exact ideas about how to connect and collectively re-weave our torn relationship places. I’ve read manifestos, stages, and steps. Most of them seem stilted and unworkable to me, but a couple of thoughts do make sense.

Start where I am. Where I can make the biggest difference is in my own neighborhood. 

I am deeply emotionally attached to many towns in the Valley (Wenatchee, Leavenworth, East Wenatchee, Monitor, Peshastin and Dryden, for example), but Cashmere is my hood. 

Second whatever I do, if I intend to have an impact, it cannot be a momentary enthusiasm. I need to commit to doing it consistently. 

If I’m going to commit, it needs to be something that I can do repeatedly — something that I enjoy and find meaningful.

There is a group of people who have diligently offered free dinners to the Cashmere community every Thursday evening at the Methodist Church. That’s consistent commitment! I am in awe of their faithfulness. These meals help to build a spirit of community. 

I strongly support the endeavor; it’s meaningful, but it’s not in my wheelhouse to consistently do.

My husband, John, and I were discussing what we could do as we strolled around town last year. While we were walking, we occasionally saw people, gave a smile, or a wave. Occasionally we’d stop for a few minutes and chat. That’s when it dawned on us. 

We could help build community by consistently doing, with more intention, what we were doing at that very minute. Giving a smile, a wave, making eye-contact, stopping for a chat.

As we have become more purposeful around having positive community encounters, we notice more. We pay more attention to who lives where — to who has dogs and cats, to who needs help. We talk to the teens at the skatepark and to those waiting to play soccer. 

In addition to connecting, we learn a lot. We see what books the kids are taking from the little free libraries around town. 

Yesterday, we met a man at the Riverside Park who moved here to grandparent. He told us he had been a “math guy” at Boeing. He had drawn various configurations for planes. The math guy gave us the inside dope on the troubled 737 Max. 

Later we ran into a group of fifth-grade girls who were doing an art project on the downtown sidewalk. They showed us a poster and gave us a five-minute message on the fruits of the spirit — love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. 

These neighborhood walks feel good to us. We enjoy making connections, learning, and doing something to build community. It’s fun and fulfilling.

People all over America are doing things to help build their communities. Billions of hours are volunteered in service each year. We need to keep that up. And we need to continue to figure out personal and collective ways to thicken our network of relationships in ways that are rewarding.

Here’s one other, simple way to help build the spirit of community. Take your whole family to the 4th of July community picnic in your hood. Go, not just this year, but every year. Make it a ritual. 

I know, you could run into some discomfort. There could be people sharing different politics, speaking languages you don’t quite understand, playing music that isn’t quite your taste. Dirty dogs might step on your blanket. You might have to skip the potato salad if it’s been in the sun too long. You might need to take a day off work. 

But go to the picnic anyway. Consider it your duty as a citizen.

Don’t just go to the picnic, make a point to connect. Make eye-contact. Curl your lips into a smile. Give a little nod or wave. Have a short conversation. 

Eating together is a unique way we, as Americans, celebrate and appreciate all that we have received as citizens of this country. It also could be one way we continue to revitalize it. And… you could end up having a blast.

How might you move up to the Good Life by intentionally building community?

June Darling, Ph.D. can be contacted at drjunedarling1@gmail.com; website: www.summitgroupresources.com. Her bio and many of her books can be found at amazon.com/author/junedarling.

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