By David Anderson, President – Tillicum Woodbrook Neighborhood Association
As our grandson prepared for his first day of Kindergarten just a month ago, in contemplation of the Big Event he said to his daddy “Wait! Does this mean I won’t be able to play all day anymore?”
Pretty profound question for a six-year-old, one the presidential contenders accuse each other of having failed to answer.
During the just completed vice president debate Vice President Biden suggested that saying 47 percent of the American public is “dependent on government” – a reference to Mitt Romney’s now-famous remarks – was tantamount to declaring them “unwilling to take responsibility of their own lives.”
What then do they do all day? Play? More importantly, who is responsible for whom?
When I was a chaplain for the police department, our training in a crisis was (1) Go and, (2) After arrival and upon the inevitable question “What can I do?” we were to say “I don’t know.” The purpose in professing ignorance was not because we were callous. We weren’t. We came because we cared. But we were to care enough to put the onus of responsibility for deciding a course of action, even in crisis, where it belonged, on the closest network of responsible support – the family, and then friends and neighbors of the family.
When parents and their kids were washing cars in our community so the youngsters could play sports, one of the mothers asked “Haven’t I washed enough cars for my son to play ball yet?” I responded that indeed we had and that we were now washing cars so kids in a nearby community, also poor like ours, could participate as well. She responded “Well, I’m not.” And she tossed her sponge into the bucket, took her son, and went home.
What is the great object of education, let alone government, kindergarten and beyond? Is it not for the passionate teacher to assist the parent to inspire the student by opening the window to the world and, in that discovery, help the young charge realize the world does not revolve around him or her but rather to instill the delight in the opportunity, challenge and adventure of rolled-up-sleeve responsibility to take his place in it?
And what would that look like?
The wheel has already been invented.
In a lecture on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., on March 23, 1995, author and social critic Dr. Os Guinness called it “the best model we have for turning around a society and culture.” That to which Dr. Guinness referred was the belief in 1837 England that “wherever they found themselves within society – rich, poor, or middle class – and with whatever gifts or talents they had been given, they could and should unite their energies with those of their fellow citizens and follow through on their duty to work toward making the good society.”
It was that very concern for the welfare of others, coupled with the responsibility each had for his neighbor and neighborhood to make it happen, that was the philosophy most responsible for ushering in the Victorian era.
The changes were dramatic and they included “educating the blind, helping animals, treating ailing seamen, promoting vaccination, and easing the plight of the poor and those in debtor’s prison.”[i]
And, interestingly – to answer the current debate over what role does government play – hundreds of voluntary societies became “(the) chosen vehicle because the good obtainable through political means had severe limitations.”[ii]
But few are the limitations for what can be accomplished by a family and a community that enlists the capacity of its greatest asset – the people who call it home. That’s because “the asset-based approach builds upon the skills, intelligence, labor, discipline, savings, creativity, and courage (of people who must) participate in all aspects of the project: proposing the best course of action, implementing the chosen strategy, evaluating how well things are working, and determining the appropriate modifications.”[iii]
Or in other words, turning in our color crayons and picking up the pencil.