Editor’s Note: MAPP, Mobilizing for Action through Planning & Partnerships, is a local coalition that aims to use and build upon our strengths to improve our individual, family and community health. Health is defined broadly to include cultural, economic, educational, environmental, mental, physical and spiritual health.
I usually don’t like using strong words like “always” and “never” and “everything” or “nothing,” but sometimes I just can’t help it. Like right now.
Everything that matters for community starts with the individual.
I think I can safely say that. Communities develop a personality, a culture, a reputation and that is built on the actions of the individuals who live there. Some individuals may affect that more, but all individuals make up the whole.
So what is the culture of our community?
MAPP’s 2015 Community Perceptions survey asked what people see as the strengths of our community. Natural beauty ranked number one (of course), but coming in second was “People Help Each Other.” That may sound cheesy, but it is an important aspect for a healthy, resilient community.
Last month at a MAPP community meeting, collaborative projects from all around town were highlighted. One after another stood up to explain how organizations and individuals were working together to achieve goals that were bigger than themselves. Goals that were too big to work on alone.
That was heartwarming and fun, and then the conversation evolved into considering ways that organizations can share some of their core activities, everything from office space to accounting services, in these times of statewide budget slashing. That kind of collaboration is a sign of adaptability and resilience that will help us all make it through hard times.
(And let me tell you, we are famous state-wide down here on this end of the Kenai Peninsula for our ability to work together.)
So if it is true that people help each other at the community level, is it true at the individual level?
Indeed it is. There was another question on that Community Perceptions survey that was much more personal. It asked individuals to rank if they “have supportive and loving relationships” in their lives. The question allowed the respondent to select “Always,” “Frequently,” “Sometimes” or “Never.”
It turns out that 89 percent said “Always” or “Frequently.” The culture of caring definitely runs strong in our community, even at the individual level.
Not to be a downer, however, I can’t help noting that 10 percent said only “Sometimes” and 1 percent said “Never.”
This makes me think about this culture of caring. What makes up a culture? My favorite definition of culture is: a way of life of a group of people — the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that are accepted, generally without thinking about them, and are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next.
It’s true that we generally don’t think about being a culture of caring, we just do it. It tends to benefit us as much as others. But if it is truly part of our beliefs and values, it wouldn’t hurt to think about ways that we can pass it along.
How do we pass it on? How do we find those “Sometimes” and “Never” folks and treat them in such a way that the next time they fill out this survey they will mark “Frequently” or “Always”?
This isn’t just about passing the culture of caring on to the next generation of youth, but also the next generation of new people who come to town. “Sometimes” and “Never” folks could live right next door.
As I said, I don’t like to use strong words like “Always” and “Never.” But I find that it depends on where it is used. For example, I am totally excited that almost two-thirds of survey respondents said they “Always” have supportive and loving relationships. Most of us do.
I would, however, especially like to erase “Never” from the vocabulary when we talk about love and support.
Culture may be defined as behaviors and beliefs that we generally do without thinking, but we have a chance to define the culture of our community.
So go ahead and think about it. Create the culture you want to live in. Whether it is love and support at the individual level or collaboration at the community level, it makes us all part of a healthier community.
Kyra Wagner is the coordinator of Sustainable Homer and a member of the MAPP steering committee.