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City Notes: ‘Communityness’ requires all of us, working together

By Mark Wicks, Community Development Director

John F. Kennedy is often remembered as one of America’s favorite presidents, despite the fact that he basically told all of us to get up off our butts and help out, putting the greater good above ourselves.

“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country,” President Kennedy has famously been quoted in his 1961 inaugural address.

While he was speaking in obviously larger terms, his message can also apply to a community, a neighborhood, or even a specific issue.

City Notes: 'Communityness' requires all of us, working together
Mark Wicks
Charles City Community Development Director

It’s about citizenship, of taking ownership in where you live, or as a recent Main Street Iowa workshop speaker put it, “Communityness” (his made-up word, not mine).

“You serve your community. In turn your community serves you,” said Jeff Siegler, the leader of “Revitalize or Die,” a civic organization working to empower communities to fight apathy, foster pride and “to give a damn.”

“Everyone has a responsibility, be it voting, volunteering or petitioning. Don’t wait for someone else to make change or it may never happen,” he said.

In short, it’s up to all of “Us” to make our community a better place, a place we are proud of and proud to be from — not “Them” or anyone else.

You know, there really is no “Them” — a mythical entity that will do everything for us. “Them” is “Us.”

We are the ones who make things happen — or keep them from happening.

Even when referring to our different levels of government, Them is Us that We elected from among Us by a majority vote to represent Us.

If enough of Us ask for something or decide we want to make something happen, it usually will. If we don’t, well …

“United, there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures,” Kennedy also remarked in that inaugural speech. “Divided, there is little we can do – for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder … Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.”

Citizenship is more than just living someplace, according to Siegler, just as a sense of “community” doesn’t come from merely living near one another. It requires at least some level of actual participation (commenting on social media doesn’t count).

“We regain our civility when we meet in person,” Siegler said.

“Community only exists when we gather together and work with each other for a common goal,” he continued. “It is not just taking from a community, but giving something back to it as well. Community goes both ways — it’s everyone’s responsibility.”

Apathy and a lack of civic pride, he remarked, are what keep us from achieving the goals that we want for our community.

“Pride is the enemy of apathy. … If you want to revitalize your community, you need to revitalize the people,” Siegler said. “Places that have lost pride are dysfunctional. They are apathetic, pessimistic, have low self-esteem, are self-absorbed and resistant to change, discourage creativity, and don’t learn from others. They have an over-reliance on government or someone else to do everything for them.

“We have to empower people to take ownership and pride in their community,” he remarked. “See something – do something. Your town, your responsibility.”

Points of pride, according to Siegler, include communityness, ownership, a sense of community identity, and appearances.

“It’s hard to be proud of something that is poorly maintained,” he noted. “The way things appear forms our opinions of them. When appearances improve, self-esteem improves.”

The last point of pride involves standards – those we set for ourselves, for our community and for our country.

“No person or institution ever improved from lowering standards,” said Siegler. “Across the board, communities must begin to raise their standards. When we ask more of people, they tend to rise to the occasion.”

As a society we are accepting less and less, and getting less and less in return, he stated.

“Lowering standards doesn’t improve anything. A lack of standards is a lack of pride. Don’t be a compromise community with a lot of lowering of standards … (quoting Mandy Hale) Refuse to lower your standards to accommodate those who refuse to raise theirs.”

Bottom line – do something for your community to make it “Your” community and one you can be proud of. What that ends up being, big or small, is entirely up to you.

“Pride requires participation,” Siegler said. “What have you done to make your community proud of you?”

Community Revitalization is Charles City’s Main Street Iowa program, a volunteer-driven, non-profit organization dedicated to helping make Charles City a great place to live, work and play. To learn more call 641-228-2335 or email info@charlescitychamber.com.

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