According to a recent Associated Press article, Miami ranked last in a 50 city survey on volunteering. For an idealist like me, the news was depressing to say the least. I firmly believe in the concept of unlimited human potential and the strength of community, but ultimately, it is not my belief that is important.
Miami’s volunteerism rate of 14.5 percent displaced Las Vegas (yes sin city!) at the bottom of the philanthropic barrel. (The top city had a rate of 39.9 percent) The article cites some possible influences:
Miami’s poverty rate and average commute times are slightly higher than the national average, while other factors influencing volunteerism — home ownership and education level — are slightly lower. (http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080727/ap_on_re_us/volunteering).
I’ve heard these arguments before, but I have to wonder if these are the causes or the effects. Has Miami become the city of “every man for himself?” Have we lost our sense of community? Just last year, a USA report noted Miami ranked number one in the rudest drivers:
The most frequent cause of road rage cited in the survey was impatient motorists. (http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2007-05-15-rude-drivers_N.htm)
Have we forgotten that we are all connected in a social ecosystem? Road rage is a good example. How often have you seen your fellow commuters fighting over a few yards of roadway? How many minutes of commute time did they actually gain? When was the last time a rude driver ruined your stress free commute? Unless you’re a Zen master, I’m sure you passed that stress on to someone else.
Of course, there are courteous drivers out there. They allow you to merge into traffic, signal for you to go first at the stop sign, slow down when you put your blinker on to switch lanes—but it seems a rare event to me. Perhaps these courteous drivers are the same 14.5 percent who volunteer. The same people who realize their actions reverberate through the community and return to them intensified.
Yes, rudeness is contagious (watch how quickly a customer reacts to a rude cashier), but I don’t think that is the biggest threat to our sense of community. I think the biggest threat is ambivalence. How often have you heard the phrase “People just don’t care” or “I’m just too busy”? How many times have you said it? Have we accepted the dissolution of community values?
No, what I believe is not important. I may believe every individual has the potential to change the world, but if those individuals don’t believe it, it won’t make a difference—they won’t make a difference.