By William Gresham
What makes a community member’s voice authentic? What is it that gives the words pronounced by some greater heft than those expressed by someone else? Is it the time the commenter has spent in the community? Is it the age of the person expressing their point? Is it the length of time one’s clan has maintained residency in a geographic location? Or is it the good will built up by the person speaking, and wisdom evident in their previous words and deeds which make others recognize that what they are hearing is an expression worthy of consideration?
Merriam-Webster defines community as “a unified body of individuals”. But unification can come in a variety of colors, and isn’t necessarily comprehensive. I suppose that, usually, the main factor which defines that unity is geographic commonality.
Our community of Parkville has been challenged by a tough economic situation, and, now, a pending flood of the Missouri River and its tributaries. Preparations for that flooding, and the rising water itself, have made conducting the traditional festival associated with the 4th of July an impossibility. On a recent early Sunday morning, I attended a meeting at which alternative plans for Independence Day activities were discussed.
It seems to me that most attending that meeting had what they thought were the best interests of the community at heart. But the way they each voiced those interests were widely disparate. Some community members nearly demanded that their voices be heard, with the expectation being that their individual statuses, and the weight of their words, was enhanced by the rhetorical and literal volume at which they spoke. Some newer, younger community members were challenged to defend the value of their contributions, apparently because the duration of their residency was less.
Traditional cultures placed special reverence on the words of elders. But, in this culture, what is an elder? I have lived in this community for decades; my paternal grandfather’s family came to Parkville in the 1880s, and my paternal grandmother’s family came to Parkville in the 1840s - a continuing legacy in this community, stretching back to before the Civil War, more than 160 years. Should my voice be heard any more loudly than that of someone who has just come into the community, but who cares deeply about it? I say no. If that were the case, then we’d all better seek the council of the native people who lived here for millennia before we or our ancestors arrived.
Our “elders” are those who are best able to understand the community, to synthesize the needs of that community, and develop a direction which benefits the majority of that community, in a manner respecting the contributions of everyone in the community. We would be well-served to remember the wisdom of author Eckhart Tolle, who noted that, in some number of years, we’ll all be rotting in the same ground. Those who best embody that spirit are those whose voices we should listen to most carefully.
Bill Gresham is an environmental scientist and terrestrial organism, whose frequent forays into English Landing Park are soon likely to become less frequent, at least until the floodwaters recede. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can find more of his work at www.rethinkingtheworld.net.