In an insightful article for online magazine Being Latino, writer Nick Baez lamented the slow decline of community involvement within today's society, particularly within immigrant communities where the newly-arrived are eager to 'fit in.' He acknowledged the tremendous pressure placed upon the head of households, indeed on all of us, to succeed, usually at the cost of tremendous isolation. As we are all aware, success -- portrayed by Madison Avenue advertisers, steamy tele-novellas on the Spanish-language channels, radio marketing campaigns, and even free circulars sitting next to the bus-stops, involves two important facets, namely consumption and transformation.
Success, as one moves up the socio-economic ladder, demands larger and more; bigger autos, newer electronics to fill the kitchen, den, and bedroom. Larger vacuums, barbecue-pits, freezers, lawn-mowers and leaf-blowers are obligatory to appear as being part of the now/the current/that which is at the forefront of the next best thing. More clothes in the closet demands a larger home/containers and shelving systems/an attic or basement for the surplus; a larger selection of shoes and bags, cosmetics, perfumes, and jewelry for every event is advised by shop-clerks/fashion-gurus/magazine editors should the occasion arise. Buy! Buy! Buy! is the name of the game, and Americans surpass the rest of the world in consumption. Whether or not one needs an item, catchy slogans/price-point bargains/bulk discounts ensure that even the most disinterested among us succumb to the allure promised by materialism.
Success, as one moves from origin to destination, rewards the subjugation of the idiosyncratic/individual/unique for a bland, thoughtless, unquestionable 'normalcy' seeming within reach of all amongst us. Here, in the comfort zone promised by integration and assimilation, anyone can look like everyone else (or tries to) and aspiration is reserved for those who are deemed 'successful'. These exalted role models stare down at us from the billboards/TV screens/magazine covers as personalities/celebrities/actors/
athletes/politicians/captains of industry are lauded for their every move/twitter feed/purchase/preference. Note: family doctors/teachers/grocery-store cashiers need not apply!! Accents are best erased, preferences for ethnic or original are ditched in favor of 'fusion,' and eager-beavers quickly learn that the past is gone, the present is long enough for one quick trip to the mall, and the future is just near enough for the scheduled unveiling of a newer/updated/more advanced object or 'necessity' to distract even the staunchest critic among us.
The need, or want, of more objects demands increasingly longer hours spent working, and thereby less time spent qualitatively with the family, and undoubtedly zilch time spent in the community. Activities such as getting to know one's neighbors, participating in civic groups, and most certainly volunteering (or volunteerism) plays second fiddle to all efforts concerned with the process of 'getting ahead.' Organizations such as the Rotary Club, the Lions Club, the Jaycees and others find it increasingly hard to recruit new members as individuals today prefer to interact on social media sites, electronically, or in front of the largest available HD-TV screen while reciting obscure sport statistics.
In the past, men (and women) considered volunteering and membership in such organizations as integral to fulfilling one's civic duty, remembers Chuck Fields. Chuck joined the South Arlington Lions Club 48 years ago, and every Christmas season with a small group of members, volunteers from local high-school sports teams, and assistance from the Better Sports Bureau, has operated the Christmas Tree Lot Sale at the corner of Columbia Pike and George Mason Drive (now running for 20 years). All funds raised through the sale of trees, wreaths, and roping is dispersed between Sight and Sound Clinics which provide free eyesight and hearing tests for low-income and uninsured residents of Arlington County; high-school athletic teams who need additional funds to purchase equipment, repair existing facilities, or undertake travel to sports meets; and to disaster relief efforts here and abroad. In the true spirit of humanitarianism, all those in need are serviced or directed to the appropriate source(s). Even when the temperature drops to 30 F or less, my man Chuck can be seen on-site moving trees, sweeping the lot, or pulling away debris to the county dump. This holiday season, please drop in and say hello, or thanks. And consider getting involved for the sake of the community (and yourself).
Please enjoy today's visual treat, and consider how you too may make a difference (by volunteering).