Monday, July 24, 2006

we all OR us and them

A few years ago I showed up for a neighborhood meeting, which happened to be the annual elections for the district council. I got elected and now, recently I was nominated to chair the neighborhood action committee. Which means it is my responsibility to see that we engage at least some of the 31,000 very diverse people in crime prevention or community building programs. Now this wasn’t because I distinguished myself in any amazing way—rather, I was accidentally at a key meeting. Yet, by far it’s the best opportunity I’ve had to try out my leadership wings.

Mostly, it means I got to sit through boring and convoluted meetings in which I didn’t understand half the acronyms, nor the process for about a year and now that I’m sort of catching on, I’m in charge. Those who know me know I am never involved in politics—and this community volunteer thing is like the first step in the running for office direction. Being born and raised without any politics on the radar at all—I knew nearly nothing of city governance by strangers, having in its place communal governance and guidance by family and elders. So, I often run into realizations about how different of a concept of neighborhood I hold.

Tonight, I was at a meeting where this difference was very stark. We were being instructed about the procedures of citizen’s arrest. Good information. Yet I was a bit taken aback. My prima fascia reaction to a possible crime is not 911, it is inserting yourself into the situation and taking personal responsibility for its resolution. Developing a relationship with the “possible” perpetrator or neighborhood problem. Social pressure to do the “right” thing, based on relationships.

I live this out even in my neighborhood. Likely, the most “scary” story was of our neighborhood sex offender—that was before we knew he was a sex offender. He was the “uncle” to the “problem family” in our neighborhood. Because we were on very familiar terms with the neighbors, he came with the family. And the family was in and out of our house all the time. He too came over sometimes. He was flirtatious--and nothing gets my goat faster. I tried to piss him off so he wouldn't like me too much. My roommate went out with him a few times. I didn’t approve but I didn't want to deal with the drama of a confrontation. That’s all easy to say, now that we know: he was apprehended for kidnapping and raping a woman about two years ago. Later, our roommate told us she had been at his house and watched TV with him, on his bed. Yikes! The Lord was with her!

While, I believe in taking responsibility for the social and moral well-being of one’s neighbor. I have put myself and others in danger—those in my intentional community who bought into my vision. As I have demonstrated, I didn’t follow through on my own vision. I didn’t warn my roomate. I cowered under the pressure of her most probable response. In this crazy world of mix between seeing the other as one of us OR them the bad guys and us the good guys: I suppose we could lock all the doors, turned on the air and let our cars take us to the social circles of our choices. But would we be any safer with the results of our own choices?

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