Last week's weekly email newsletter from the Oakland Mills Village Center included a comment that caught my attention, and provided some new fodder for my on-going conversation (with myself and anyone who will listen) about the possibilities and limits of Howard County's Choose Civility Campaign.
The goals of this campaign are "to enhance respect, empathy, consideration and tolerance in Howard County." No argument there. But it seeks to do this by teaching and reinforcing 25 "rules" for conduct. Is that what we really need? Or do lists of rules end up undermining the very things that would lead us to act "civilly" to each other?
Case in point:
We are facing challenges with the housing market and as a result several homes in Oakland Mills remain unsold and vacant. We have neighbors who are struggling to keep their homes or face foreclosure. The Oakland Mills staff receives calls daily about newspapers accumulating on driveways, leaves not raked etc. Our Covenant Advisor Debbie Bach makes every attempt to contact homeowners and realtors to request that properties are maintained. We are here to help the residents, and spend a lot of time listening to residents and do what we can to help them get through their challenging situations.
There are many neighborly acts of kindness that everyone can do to help one another. If you see that papers are accumulating and you know that the home is vacant, please take a minute to pick up the papers and put it out with your weekly recycling. If you know a neighbor may be facing some tough times stop by, give a call, see if there is something you can do to help them out. Often people who are facing life’s challenges feel like they are all alone and simple acts of kindness can go a long, long way.
To me, this note suggests the limits of rule-based community relationships. If I am walking through my neighborhood and see a house with unraked leaves I can think, "Here's someone in violation of the community covenant! I should report them!" Or, I can think, "I wonder if I my neighbor needs help?"
The later response is, in the end, the response that builds community. It's the response which on which creates the kind of neighborhood where people want to live. And that, in the end, is how best to get people to rake their leaves, pick up their papers and bring in their trash cans. I do those things NOT because there are rules telling me what to do. I do them because I know my neighbors and I want to honor them and the world we are building together.