Why I Don’t Believe in Giving Back to the Community

There are certain phrases, which, when I hear them, set my teeth on edge. I won’t bore you with my full list. We all have our pet peeves.

It took me awhile to figure out why “giving back to the community” was on my list. It seems like such a good thing. People say it when they are being commended for their volunteer work or philanthropy. “Well, I’ve been so blessed,” they’ll say modestly. “I thought it was time to give back to the community.

It’s part of every commencement speech: follow your passion and give back to the community!

On the surface, it looks like good advice. But if you really look at that phrase, it actually sets up a separation between me and the community. As though the community is some form of bank account upon which you draw until gratitude or guilt or fear that you’ve depleted it too much causes you to decide to put a little back. Which…

Awhile back a picture made the rounds on Facebook. You’ve likely seen it – a long line of cars, bumper to bumper, spewing exhaust fumes. The caption read: You’re not stuck in traffic. You are traffic.

Oh, right. Crap.

And I think the same can be said for community. We don’t take from and give back to it. We are it. And everything we do, in the various ways we like to compartmentalize our lives will either help to build the kind of community we want to be a part of, or it won’t.

Raising a happy, healthy family helps to build a community of happy, healthy families. Shopping at local small businesses helps to build a vibrant business community. Picking up litter as we walk through town will help to foster a cleaner town. It’s not giving back, it’s just being a person.

I know this is a subtle difference. What can I say? I majored in English in university. I live for subtle differences. But if we go back to following our Yay’s and stepping away from our Ugh’s, our community involvements, our overall lifestyle choices will give us the kind of Yay communities we want to live in. Following our Yay’s will allow us to find the Yay’s that already exist wherever we’re living and help them to grow and thrive. Understanding that our Ugh’s are someone else’s Yay will let us relax about the bits we don’t like or understand.

I’m not a skateboarder. I find walking down the sidewalk to be enough of a challenge, without throwing four wheels and a board under my feet. I find the sound of them unpleasant. They are definitely not one of my Yay’s. But we have a skateboard park in Stratford and sometimes I walk past. And the people making use of it look pretty darned happy about it. So, Yay them. I don’t have to be a part of it. I can put my time and energy into the Symphony or the Art Gallery or whatever else puts a look on my face like the skateboarders have in the park.

One of the things I love about being a Reiki practitioner is that every time I give a treatment, I receive one myself. It’s just an integral part of the process. I don’t take the Reiki energy and then give it back, I just allow it to flow through me and I and my client benefit. The woman who taught me this told me that if I find the treatments deplete me, I’m doing it wrong.  Reiki is about being and when I allow myself to just be in a treatment,  everything flows smoothly. When I get caught up in trying to do, things start to go wrong. It becomes difficult. It doesn’t flow the way it likes to. Giving and receiving, instead of being the same thing become separated. It’s ugly and unpleasant. So I take a deep breath, lean back. Allow. And be.

As I get used to that process, I start to notice it more and more in the world around me. All of life, it seems to me is giving and receiving at the same time. One process benefiting the other. Or the good bits, anyway. The natural world has this down pat. And when we work within those natural processes, we benefit and feel at peace. In our gardens, our lives, our communities, when giving and receiving are one and the same, things flow so smoothly. When we separate the two, it gets ugly. Difficult.

I’m just beginning to learn this. I may not be any good at explaining it. But I do believe it’s worth noticing. And I’d love to hear your thoughts.



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8 Responses to Why I Don’t Believe in Giving Back to the Community

  1. Val M says:

    You are so right on the mark, Barb. It’s like in my classroom – I don’t teach the class, WE are the class and we share learning, back and forth, all of us together. I bring planned opportunities and go with the ones that pop up along the way. We all share the learning. It’s a community. All of us.

    I think that in our solitary, closed off, live behind our front doors, drive in our sealed up cars lives, we forget that we are part of something bigger. We draw lines and let lines be drawn, and we stay in our own life spaces. The longer we live like that, the more separate we become and we hear phrases that show the separation, like “giving back to the community” and “stuck in traffic” and “he/she should” and “why doesn’t somebody…..?”

    Personally, I would rather live in a community living space where everyone uses their talents and passions to enrich the lives of ‘the community’. We were never meant to live so disconnected from each other and from the whole.

    • Barb says:

      Connection is something I think about a lot these days.

      Your students are lucky to have a teacher like you!

      • Val says:

        Unfortunately, it is often viewed by the administration and union as ‘crossing boundaries’. I’m supposed to draw a clear line between me and “them”. It seems I have always had what most consider boundary issues, but I have recently come to understand that it is a life choice to remain connected and to resist boxing myself into or out of relationships and roles. The interesting thing is that most students like this ‘feeling connected’. It’s the ‘higher ups” that have the issues with it.

  2. Mandy Voyce says:

    I have never thought of this before but it makes complete sense! Love your perspective on it!

  3. Michaela Murphy says:

    Oh Barb I LOVE your mind! I couldn’t have imagined where you were going with feeling peeved at the phrase ‘giving back to the community’ but yet again, you turn things on their axis and make me think, and help me recalibrate. You’ve reminded me that the very best place to be is in the flow. Thank you 🙂

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