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Schubart: Community Cohesion

In physics, centripetal forces propel objects toward the center and centrifugal forces drive them away. And today, our societies and communities are engaged in an epic battle between these two opposing forces.

I once attended a Salzburg Seminar and the most compelling presentation I heard was from a sociologist analyzing the Bosnian War. He explained how the Serbs destroyed villages by first attacking the places in which villagers gathered – like libraries, cafes, schools, and houses of worship.

The rationale was simple, if you destroy the places where people come together, you shatter the cohesive spirit of a community. And while we’re hardly besieged by a warring tribe today, technical and societal forces are exerting a strong centrifugal force on our fragile communities.

In the best of worlds, family and community exert a powerful cohesive effect on us as individuals, reminding us constantly that we’re not alone and that we’re dependent on one another for friendship, help in time of need, commerce, and decision-making. For two centuries, the Vermont town meeting has exemplified this understanding.

Urbanization, the out-migration of commerce, the deterioration of spiritual communities and the malignancy of shallow digital relationships, as opposed to those that are face-to-face, all exert centrifugal force. Digital relationships often degrade conversations into online yelling matches; whereas our collective sense of interdependence exerts a cohesive effect. We may disagree, but we must also live together, knowing our families and communities will survive our disagreements.

And speaking of community cohesion, we’ve just learned that the Chittenden County Solid Waste District is closing our Hinesburg drop-off site. When I was young, we called these “dumps” and they were a community gathering place.

Every Saturday morning, people brought their trash. Wyvis, the dump-man, had a cabin there and sorted reusable goods like salvaged wheels, old generators, rusty hardware, and the like. When it came time for the annual soap-box derby, the dump was our parts place. After closing, kids took potshots at rats with their .22s, and WDEV still broadcasts “Music to Go to the Dump By.”

If our communities are to survive, we must sustain the few remaining places that bring us physically together. So, as the holidays approach, turn off the TV, put down your smart phone, and share your thoughts and feelings with one another around the family table, at church, or even at your local community watering hole.

Bill Schubart lives and writes in Hinesburg. His latest book is Lila & Theron.
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