On community

This post has been in draft form for a long time. On this Sunday morning, I’m reminded that I have a natural park in my backyard, a resort-like setting, and a 16-inch 2019 MacBook Pro to warm my lap as I type. What could be better than to spoil this moment by writing about politics?

Thus I set about to finish this post.

There’s a pretty basic difference in priorities between the left and the right and you see it play out in everything from immigration to fuel economy policies. It goes something like this:

  • Right: protect what’s mine
  • Left: share what’s ours

I identify more with the left side of this spectrum but I understand the impulse behind the right side. My left lean here stems from the simple belief that a lot of what I have came out of just plain luck. That’s not to say I didn’t earn any of it. I certainly worked hard. But even being in the position to study as much as I needed to in high school puts me at a certain advantage. I didn’t have any debt when I graduated with my four-year undergrad degree because my parents covered what I didn’t earn from work and scholarships. That was another huge advantage going into graduate school. To be able to consider taking two or three years off from my professional career with no income in my mid-20s was another huge luxury, a gift I was given largely by my parents.

That’s why I believe people with the means should, within reason, share what they have. They should be generous, pay taxes, volunteer, and tip extra. I want to enjoy what I have but by no means do I feel entitled to be greedy about it.

The theme from the right, particularly now that Trump has been the namesake of the Republican party, is that everything held should be kept. Even if it was given to you, unearned, by luck of the lottery or birth into a wealthy family it’s yours and you don’t have to share it, certainly not by government mandate. It’s a pretty simple way to think about community: be happy with what you got. If someone else has more, find a way to get it yourself. If you’re down on your luck, toughen up and figure it out. Even though I’m opposed to the philosophy, I see the elegance in it.

Ultimately, I ask myself this: what kind of community do I want to live in? If I’m baking and see that I’m down an egg, do I want to know my neighbor would gladly share their egg with me? Or do I want to be frustrated that my texts won’t get returned and I’ll have to shuttle myself down to 7-11 because my neighbor won’t share?

The answer is obvious. I want neighbors who will help me out. That’s community. The funny thing is, I know even the most brash conservative would say the same thing. Within their tight circles, the community is actually very strong. It’s church, it’s neighbors, it’s softball teams and bowling parties. People help themselves out because they know each other.

Maybe the big question is this: what happens when someone you don’t know asks for a favor? Does your community extend outward to them? Or does it stay within the confines of your church, your league, your street?

Here we see another difference in definition:

  • Right: keep your circle small
  • Left: all are welcome

I started writing this post from the expansive sun deck at my family’s cabin on the north shore of Pinecrest Lake. It is beautiful. As night fell I’d hear crickets and the faint hum of a motorboat puttering along the south side of the lake. I’d watch as other cabin owners as lucky as me would turn on their lights, the glow reflecting off the lake like little fuzzy stars. 

I say I’m lucky because I didn’t earn this cabin. I was born into it. My great grandpa got the lease, built the cabin, and handed it down two generations. I’m the third generation and with any more luck, my cousins and I will be the custodians of this magical piece of property someday too. 

Back in August, while at Pinecrest, I listened to a podcast featuring stories of farmers from Guatemala who, fearing for their lives, sought asylum in my country. They brought their children with them, some no older than mine, on a perilous journey across dirt roads and trails, through land infested by drug cartels and robbers. Luckily they made it the border, crossed, and exercised their constitutional right as immigrants on American soil to seek asylum. Then my government separated the kids from their parents, coerced them to sign legal documents they couldn’t read, and sent them back to Guatemala without their kids. 

We’re now a week from the 2020 election and immigration is still a huge issue. We learned this week that over 500 kids who were separated, like the Guatemalans I learned about in August, have lost their parents. They simply can’t be found. These are kids like mine.

But why? Why do I care? My kids are fine. What do these stories have to do with me?

Well, it goes back to this difference in priority. I could, justifiably, say it’s not my problem. I’m here and they’re there. But I don’t see it like that.

Flipping my Pinecrest story around, I could have just as easily been born to a Guatemalan farmer family. Sounds silly to say, but I didn’t choose to be born to white middle class parents in California. It was just plain luck and I’m not comfortable with that. Getting something I didn’t earn makes me uneasy, especially when I see how terrible things could have been. I could have worked just as hard, been the same good, patient, curious person, and lived a tragic life where I too could have chosen to take my pre-school aged kids on that same dangerous journey across the southern border of the United States. 

I think about them because it could have been me. I didn’t earn my American citizenship. It was given to me by birth.

So that why I want to share what’s ours. That’s why I’m tolerant of immigrants. Because I would do the same thing and if I were them then I would hope that the American sitting in his picturesque cabin in the Sierra Nevada mountains would take a moment and think about me. 

And that maybe someday he would do something about it. 

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