Tuesday, January 1, 2008


Somewhere along the way, we have lost our sense of community. This may be a natural product of our modern impersonal world, but I believe there's more to it than that.

This morning Nan and Charlie and I took what is becoming our traditional New Year's desert hike in the Tabeguache area near our home. As we were nearing the end of our loop, we passed three people and a dog in a narrow section going the other way. The woman in front was concerned about their dog interacting with our dog Charlie, so she leaned over to grab his collar and passed without acknowledgement. I gave the young teenage girl who was next a big "Happy New Year," but she didn't reply and didn't make eye contact, so I repeated myself to the man behind her, who mumbled "Happy New Year" in reply as he glanced our way in passing.

When I'm out walking Charlie, I make a habit of saying hello to everybody we pass who bothers to make eye contact. I figure we're all out enjoying the same activity, so we might as well be friendly--maybe not as friendly as our butt-sniffing dogs, but at least cordial. My observation is that many people, especially younger people, do not share this feeling at all. They don't return the greeting or they don't make eye contact in the first place. It seems they lack the self-confidence to address strangers, or they are emotionally indifferent to people they don't know. Either way, it results in treating strangers as objects or obstacles.

You see this everywhere these days. Walking in the mall, you need to swerve to avoid people who would otherwise walk right into you. Driving on the highway, you need to go faster than the speed limit just to avoid being rear-ended. Waiting in a line, you need to look out for people cutting in front of you. "Please" and "thank you" have been replaced by "gimme." "Excuse me" no longer exists. The thought of holding a door or letting someone else go first doesn't even enter the mind.

And that's where it starts. With the mind. If your mind is so small that you can't think beyond yourself and your own selfish needs, if you've totally lost touch with the reality that we are all in this life together, if you don't realize that the best any of us can hope for is a little common decency from one another, then you are on your own. You don't belong to the community because you don't even know it exists. Open your eyes. See those strangers. Open your mind. Think about your place in this world.

Happy New Year, everybody.

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