Community or Consumer

I was tempted to subtitle this post, “adventures in condo living” in response to some recent events I have had the dubious pleasure of enduring, however it is a far broader topic than that.

First a disclaimer of sorts. We are all consumers. To live we must consume. In the very least, we consume air, water, food. Most of us consume shelter and unless you live in very primitive conditions, we consume all sorts of comforts. Most of the comforts, not to mention food, has probably been provided by some one else. Even that loaf of bread you bought at the store has involved bakers, farmers, truckers, miners – yes miners, where did you think the steel in the farm equipment came from – and a whole host of other people we will probably never meet even if did we know they were some how distantly involved in that loaf of bread. We live in community. We can’t escape it. I suppose if we want to live like a cave man hermit using handmade stone tools, but face it, you had a mother and father. You are alive because of community.

The question I am grappling with is one of posture (for lack of a better term). Is our primary posture one of community or consumer? Let me explain what I mean or at least I will try to explain what I think I mean.

If our primary posture is what I am calling here, “community,” we live in a way that intentionally contributes to the community we live in and even beyond, though we may well have know idea how far the reach is. For example, living in a condo, I have the choice of whether or not I will seek to look after my neighbours and perhaps even help them by volunteering on the condo board. As a community minded person, I choose to volunteer. There are other more obvious examples such as those who volunteer in schools, coach kids sports teams, volunteer search and rescue, shovelling the snow off your elderly neighbour’s walk…the list is nearly endless.

Not all community postures are so obvious. Some offer a services that balance community and consuming, such as a baker. A baker provides a need for the community and receives money to buy other services or products. Yet even here, a baker can make the choice to view what he or she does as a service for the good of the community. Alternatively, the baker could see it simply as a means to get money to satisfy their personal desires, in which case they are primarily a consumer of the community. In some warped sense, the community exists for their needs. This is what I am calling here a “consumer” posture.

A “consumer” posture is one where what one receives from the community matters more than contributing to the community. In it’s extreme we have theft and fraud where the perpetrator takes with no care or concern for those he or she takes from. A less extreme and far more legal example, is the person who works hard to earn money while not being concerned about how it impacts the community. Most “consumers,” however, are far more subtle than that. They live in the community aware of how they impact others. They are good neighbours. They probably work hard and care for their own family. In that sense, they are community minded, but their community is small, restricted to those who are closest. More to the point, their community is restricted to those who give back to them. There is the problem, they primarily consume larger community in order to enjoy their restricted community. They are part of a very small community that consumes the larger community.

Let me flush that out a little more. I live in a condo. Some of my neighbours freely give their time and abilities to look after the property as a whole. Some do not have the health to do much. Others expect others to look after their property, but demonstrate little concern for others. Volunteering? Not a chance. They are too busy,  they have better things to do – no end of reasons, most which are dubious at best. We are all busy people. Some make time, others consume what ever they can get from others. Don’t misunderstand me. These are often great people. Fine neighbours. Just don’t expect them to do anything for others unless there is something significant in it that makes it worth while for them personally or for their immediate family.

There are other ways we see this too that may not be so obvious. For example, you are driving down the highway with many others who are generally obeying the speed limit and driving in a way that respects the lives of those around them. They are looking after their mobile and transient community. Yes, when you get in your car you are participating in a transient community. Then along comes Mr. Selfish weaving in and out of traffic trying to get ahead of the line with little or no regard for the safety of the others on the road. At best, the highway is something to be consumed and others on the road a nuisance. The fact that the road only exists because the community contributes financially to building and constructed it…I guess that doesn’t matter to some people.

Being a consumer or community postured person is ultimately a matter of how you view other people. Do you primarily value what they can give you or what you can give them? Do you see others as a means to happiness, or your self as the means to give happiness to others? Of course there is no pure altruism. When we give to others we also receive, at least most of the time. Sometimes all we receive is criticism, but often we benefit from living in a better community. Being a “consumer” then is not so much “consuming,” as it is the absence of intentionally contributing to the good of the community. Are you a contributor or just a consumer?

Romans 13:9  For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

Maybe it’s time to start loving our neighbours. Just a thought.