Back in 2010 we went on a family vacation through much of the South. Included in the trip was a stop in Nashville, complete with a visit to the Grand Ole Opry. Only, the Opry wasn’t held at the Opry stage, but at the Ryman Auditorium instead, due to damage at the Opry caused by the monstrous flooding just a month earlier. That flooding had caused millions of dollars of damage and despite 30 counties designated as major disaster areas, the federal government was slow to respond and provided but minimal aid. The bulk of help came from the communities – including those hardest hit. While watching the Opry we learned that Brad Paisley had gone door-to-door working with his hands and tools to help his neighbors clean up. Similar stories abounded about country music stars and average Joes alike. Concerts were held to raise money for relief efforts, raising over 7 million dollars. But it was the idea of neighbors helping each other that stood out the most to me. These were people who didn’t look to Washington to solve all their problems, but instead looked to each other.
My daughter is currently serving a church mission in Jacksonville, Florida. She was there when Hurricane Matthew swept by. She spent Saturday and Sunday after the storm with hundreds of other volunteers helping with cleanup. She mentioned how happily surprised people were when they’d come outside and find these young adult volunteers in their yards cleaning up debris and taking care of fallen trees.
I have come to believe that when Washington is seen as the solution to all ills that the hearts of many wax cold towards one another. The more people in a community are striving for emotional and temporal self-reliance the more they tend to reach out and lift others. When we’re all in this together instead of all vying for government solutions the more we care for those around us. I believe that government reliance helps us focus on problems instead of solutions; victimhood instead of empowerment.
I lived in Southern California when my husband died. My friends were great and supportive, but the neighbors in the neighborhood where we lived for over a decade never reached out. Not a single knock on the door, no offers of help with things around the house, nothing. And it was fine, for I believe in taking care of myself, but there was a distinct coldness that couldn’t be disguised. I then moved to Utah 11 months later. In this middle class neighborhood there are people with cancer, people dealing with emotional health issues, several people with serious medical concerns. And yet I have been watched out for and shown tremendous care. When I had surgery, a neighbor with cancer brought me a loaf of zucchini bread and asked how she could help. The number of visitors bringing soup, bread, etc., was off the charts. My trash cans were taken out and put away. You get the idea. What was the difference? I actually believe that in SoCal, where people figure government will handle everything, people don’t feel a need to try to help. In my current neighborhood, however, the people view government as the avenue of last resort, and hence they look at the struggles of life as something we go through together. Where Hillary Clinton’s “it takes a village to raise a child” was a call for greater governmental spending and regulation, for a real conservative the village is family, the neighborhood, and the church or other similar communities.
I worry for places where the government is too involved. I would like to see more autonomy turned back over to states and local communities, for that would bring neighborhoods closer together and solve many of the problems currently facing our country. We’d watch out for each other’s children and care for the widows and the needy. There’d be less need for government intervention if families and neighborhoods watched out for one another.
I believe that that whenever we look at each other as people, as individuals struggling with the same ups and downs of life that we endure, that our hearts are softened and great things occur. Wouldn’t it be great to see a return to the civility that Americans have long been know for? Conservatism – true conservatism – is about this. It trusts individuals and communities to take care of themselves and that trust engenders greater compassion and love. It is what we need – now more than ever.