Society, socializing, sociability and community

25 03 2007

A band I like, Wookiefoot, sings a song that has lyrics I really like: “Come unity come unity, come unity, come.” The idea is that we need to make ourselves part of our community, whether that’s local or global.

This point was illustrated to me recently when I went down to the park to toss the frisbee around with some friends. My sister and her friend came, then we had another buddy show up by car and one more a half hour later by bike. The day was the first beautiful Wisconsin day we’ve had in a long time, and the park began filling up: three girls kicking a soccer ball here, two games of hoops there, even a guy plowing through the ice on the lake with his kayak (crazy). There were probably seven other groups playing frisbee, ranging in size from two to six people per group.

Since the ability to throw a frisbee halfway decent is about all it takes to play ultimate, we decided to try forming a game. As we went from group to group, one after another said they weren’t interested in playing. We got two groups of two and absorbed one other from a group of six while two more groups had good reasons for deferring. Overall it was a poor-sized game relative to the number of people in the park who could actually toss a disc.

I wonder if this is another sign that our generation is unwilling to socialize. I’ve read theories by some who suppose that the loss of community is the death of every society. I notice everywhere that neighbors are usually unwilling to socialize unless forced. True block parties rarely happen (unless you call the drunkfest that is the Mifflin Street block party a genuine block party.) Our sociable neighbors back at my parents’ house are leaving and being replaced by people who keep to themselves. Even the neighbors upstairs in my apartment rarely make the effort to talk. Granted, I haven’t often initiated contact with them, but still, chance meetings should be conducive to more than a simple grunted “Hi.”

To add to that, my generations’ sense of social responsibility seems to be low. Volunteerism and activism seem to be things of the past. I still see people volunteer, but it seems that all too often it’s for class credit or resume padding. Todd Gitlin made me aware of the bigger form of activism that goes on. We spend money to show our support for causes rather than activating to make changes. Think of the red “AIDS ipod”, $5 of which goes to AIDS research, or fair trade coffee or any number of other spending choices. While I don’t mean to bash this kind of spending (because it is worth the consciousness), I feel that promoting capitalism for the sake of helping others doesn’t quite make sense. Why not take a role in the community and working with people directly? Work at a food shelter once a week, do some kind of counseling or perform another selfless act.

Am I completely off base? Are college students becoming more active in relieving the world’s problems? Are university students becoming more caring instead of less caring?

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