In for a penny, here come the pounds….but it is easier that way (part 3)….start small.

It is hard to start this part three but, here goes: for everything to get fixed, we all have to fix what we can.

What that means for most people is starting to emphasize non-judgmental acceptance of others in your sphere of existence. You see same or different coloured folks, same or different languages, same or different presentations, same or different situations and you address them all with respect and help. It is that simple. And never ignore a person in need. Don’t drive by pretending you don’t see. Help everyone you encounter who needs assistance. Every single one. Every time.

A lot of people will read that as ‘Damn, I gotta send more money to starving African babies again? I gotta be nice to drug addicts hitting me up on the street? I gotta bake a cake for the local church charity?’ Absolutely NOT. That level of giving is totally optional and I can assure you that doing it (especially reluctantly) will just burn you out and drain your wallet. Helping in this context means ‘being there and doing something when you are called’. It does not cost anything but real time, personal, hands on time. Money is not required. And the rewards are way disproportionate to any costs.

As Sal has said for years, “You only get out of life what you put in.”

“But I am way, way too busy. I can’t afford to go looking for needy people to help. There are too many of them.” No one said ‘go looking’. Life will naturally bring a number of people in need right to your face. No need to go looking. In fact, as the old saying goes, charity begins at home. Be kind and respectful, helpful and empathic with family and friends first. That’ll keep a lot of people busy enough. Be kind and respectful to neighbours and not just ‘go-through-the-motions’.

“Do you do that?” Of course not. Too busy. Too selfish and too self-absorbed most of the time. But I can honestly say that if anyone seeks my help, I give it. I do not always give what they ask for but I give what I can and I give what I think is ‘the right thing’. I have given away thousands of dollars but, over time, I noticed that giving personal time had better results.

“How will that help build community? How will that build morality?” Good questions.

Not sure of my answer on that either but, again, here it is: If you build it, they will come. If you help your friends and neighbours, they will, in turn, help others. They may not help you and some may just take but, being a good neighbour seems to create a similar energy in others – even those you didn’t help. Community building is infectious. But it is not lineal, not direct. It is more organic and human than that. You do not need grants, assistants, projects or organization. You do not need to wear the right hat. You only need to walk the walk (silently). It will get noticed and it will be be repeated. And you may not even see it……..

There are dozens of definitions of community but most of them are academic, pseudo-science, stereotypes. They seem to extol virtuous goals or approved behaviours. I do not believe that is the way. Those models seem to require that you join something. Give something. Dress a certain way. Do the same activities. Same, same, uniformity…”Find like-minded people”, blah, blah. Kumbaya but with a grant and an office. And I think quite the opposite is true. Trying to make everyone ‘homogenized’ just creates separation. I think we just assume that we are all part of the species (and the planet) and thus we all belong in some way. And, if we/they all belong, then us/we welcome them. We accept them. And, surprisingly, that seems to be enough to build community.

“Really? You see a bunch o’ Crips and Bloods and you accept them?” Yes and No. Accept the sinner. Reject the sin. I have ‘accepted’ Hells Angels, drug addicts, criminals, bullies and thugs and most of the time, it was all just fine. I cannot think of an exception. Those people were in my neighbourhood. Those people were in my clinic. Those people were mediation clients. Some, you just bump into. But any of those people, if in need, I would also assist. Some, but not many, may just take. But most and definitely the vast majority, appreciated it and gave back in some way. That is a mind-blowing phenomena when it shows up in Skid Row.

It is also mind blowing when it shows up buying Bok Choy in a supermarket (but that is another story).

I have a bazillion stories more like this one following: the clinic in Skid Row had hundreds of clients per day. Most of them were deplorable. They were NOT the Trump Deplorables (political). They were just Skid Row denizens deplorable in their own way. Many were violent and crazy. (I really need to tell the story of Conrad someday). I treated them all with respect and politeness at first.

But life is weird and I also punched more than few. But I like to think a well placed punch helped them in some way.

Anyway, forty years later I was in a small town doing a favour for an ex-client at the local Catholic church. I had to give testimony as a witness to their annulment. As I sat in the waiting room and after having introduced myself to the older receptionist, she asked if I used to run a clinic in Skid Row decades earlier. When I said yes, she was all over me with hugs and tears and love. Long story made short: she was a mess back then. We treated her properly and with respect. She recovered and made a good life for herself. Since my name was on the clinic office door, I got all the love. In a weird, indirect way, she was ‘building community’ by way of her church and other selfless acts. Like I said; it is not lineal. It is not direct. But we were part of that, no question. It is real.

My friend, the late John R, did that sort of thing all the time. So do many of my current friends like KB, SD, DG and SH (it seems identifying folks is bad form on the internet but they all deserve acknowledgment). To this day, John’s name resonates with hundreds of people in his town. And those folks have all gone on to do something similar in nature if not in scale. John built community by being a front end mechanic who always helped others. Go figure.

But the key for this was not money-being-spent. The key was not words. There was no ‘key’, no recipe, no goal. John just got in and got his hands dirty. John did the real community work. No grants. John just quietly walked the walk.

“So, what are you saying? And pulleeez make it succinct!” By accepting and respecting everyone and helping those truly in need to the best of your ability, you will generate community. That community will eventually grow to share the same values. Shared values are what morals are all about. And that is how we restore morality – we act moral ourselves.

“Sorry, Dave. A bit flaccid, ya know? Got something else?” Sure. Easy-peasy. Join something good and already established and help them and leave the hard start-up part to others. No problem with that…..well….I have small, tiny problem with that and it has to do with the nature of institutions. It seems really good, moral leader-types start the institutions but eventually they die off and the institution is then run by people who just needed a job. So, being a bit of an independent, I choose to start-from-scratch rather than inherit a lot of institutional baggage. However, if we are measuring morality and community building both paths work if you are committed to the mission.

7 thoughts on “In for a penny, here come the pounds….but it is easier that way (part 3)….start small.

  1. I concur fully. This rings many bells that I have witnessed in my life. Would love to sit and chat around a Campfire one day.


    • It is hard to disagree with that, I know. It is almost Disney-esque. Rebecca-of-Sunnybrook Farm kinda thing. But, God knows I do not wear rose coloured glasses. To me, the scotch glass is always half empty! I said it because it is true. Way too many instances of it have proved that to me. Treat a mean, grouchy bastard with respect and humour and use a little on extra tolerance and next thing you know, the guy wants to buy ya a beer! It just works that way. That example is about building one brick for the wall but, if you persist at it with all sorts of people, you can build a sprawling empire. A community at the very least.
      Campfires are good. You know where the beach is. I have the wood.


  2. Amen to that! I attented a meeting yesterday where a leading economist was giving a presentation on manufacturing industry and governement involvement. Somewhere in his presentation he said the same as you….the solution to all these “major” problems starts within each one of us, don’t wait for the government to take action but start real small….within yourself.
    I think with these 3 blogs, you have pointed out the obvious to us all, so thnks for that!
    Even if a solution is right under our nose, sometimes someone has to rub it in.
    And probably going OTG is one of the steps that help getting back to real basics. But I’ll take the points given and apply them in the urban society I’m in today.
    Beach and campfire sounds great, as always!
    As a first step to building a community, I’ll fill that half empty glass for you by bringing a good bottle of scotch


    • Now THERE is a community building block I can get behind! And lift up and tip so that it flows. Someday we may have the chance. You, NonCon, Margy, DW, SD, John and John and Tracy and the whole gang. That would be hilarious! There may even be seven!
      It is harder-to-do in the Urban society (according to studies) but, for you, it obviously begins with your co-workers, neighbours, family, friends and those you encounter frequently. And, remember, you do not have to go looking… just have to be receptive to what they say and how they say it. So….maybe next a few stories…..did the Bok Choy encounter intrigue you?


  3. Volunteerism has been in decline for decades.
    Helping out local friends and neighbors seems to have much more immediate results.
    I couldn’t help but laugh at the latest BC Transit public request for “volunteers” to stand at their stations in various locations to help people with directions.
    A security check was mandatory. A training session and uniform would be provided.
    Hours of work?
    6am to 10am then 3pm to 6pm.

    One wonders if the fat cats in Transit head office pulling in several hundred G’s per year might “walk the talk”….


    • I learned a long time ago that people volunteer for personal reasons but ‘personal’ means the coordinator has to get to know them and respond to the needs they have. If you work for money, no one has to care if you are good, only that you do your job. But, if you work for personal reasons, then money is not what you want. You want something else. Many volunteers I had (during the refugee years) wanted to help refugees but they wanted to do so in company and have chit-chat and learn new things. They wanted companionship mostly. So I made every task at least a two person task. That alone kept all the volunteers entertained. I also ‘volunteered’ them donuts, coffee and sometimes pizza and stuff so they could all munch lunch together. And, of course, they were given jobs they wanted and I volunteered for their special causes – usually speaking at their church or group. Some of my now best friends came from that group.


  4. And please do share the story of Bok Choy AND the story of Conrad!
    But also keep some stories for the campfire after we finished a couple of bottles of scotch


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