Nobody wants to go down with a ship, let alone be at the helm as it slips low beneath the waves. Living in variously struggling rural America and being a wayward ‘yes man’, I seem to find myself in the sad and unfortunate situation of being on teams managing declines. Though not unique to our rural community (and in fact less problematic in ours than in many others) the declining social engagement in clubs, organizations, and all manner of non school-affiliated athletic pursuits impacts us more with each passing year.

There is a researcher and author by the name of Robert Putnam who wrote a book called “Bowling Alone” that greatly influenced me when I studied politics and sociology at college. Coming from a devastatingly dwindling community, I recognized many aspects of what he elucidated. His general premise was that bowling leagues and many other social/civic organizations increasingly suffer for members because we live in a progressively detached society. People are drawn away to increasingly busy children/family activities, work longer hours, and are more prone to stay home and soak in the joys of television and the internet. Adding to this for us rural folks is a decline in population and a larger unrecognized commuter lifestyle pulling us away.

Though not something Putnam argues in his text, it is easily imaginable to me that the way we shop has impacted our community involvement. Not only in the sense that we spend more time on Amazon or in cars shooting to Lincoln or Manhattan, but also in that we do not have the local-shop connections that draw us into close communication and appreciation. We do not recognize our mutually assured economic ascent or descent in the same ways we once did.

Churches suffer for attendance, events suffer for volunteers, clubs suffer for individuals willing to sacrifice one lunch or evening a week or a month to be social and socially responsible. Who will reach out a hand to help those in ill health or losing faith? Who will feed those in hunger or mentor kids on the edge of great danger? We are not a community if we cannot be tied to one another through civic and social arrangements. We must see this if we are to keep what we have in any shape or form.

Decline can be arrested and preservation of ‘core good’ can endure! We may not retain all that we once did or even everything we currently enjoy, BUT…we can do much to keep our civic essence and band together to build things we can only ruminate on at present. We can keep our networks vital and our hands at work with worthwhile projects and not the fleeting infatuations of an oversaturated digital and athletics-at-all-costs age. We can all pick up and carry one little piece each.

I encourage you to step up in big ways and small. Volunteer to do a small good when you see an opportunity. Say YES when asked to be part of a church or social committee that will only take an evening or two a month. The positive ramifications on you and your community will be worth that bit of effort. If we want to beat back pessimism and defeat for ourselves and our children, we each need to make the leap in our hearts. I plea for you to lend a hand to prevent burnout in those of over-volunteering stripe. Managing decline is not fun, but turning descent around most certainly is a reward.

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