ACHTUNG: This is not a “fair and balanced” article. It is an editorial by the editor.
It was with great sadness that I received the news this week that the Wayland Kiwanis Club is calling it quits.
Kiwanis, which did a lot of quality things to help the local school system and its young people, is another group on a long list of fraternal “do-gooder” community organizations that have ceased to exist. And this awful trend, which has been going on in the American landscape for more than half a century, severely hurts local communities when the call is sounded for doing something to benefit friends and neighbors.
I’ve told you so more than a couple of times about the book “Bowling Alone,” by Prof. Robert Putnam, which outlines the process of loss of community spirit and alienation of individuals from one another.
In these modern times, we barely know or speak to our neighbors and the only times we engage in the community arena is to go shopping, go to a concert or go to an athletic event.
In “Bygone Days,” groups such as Rotary, Kiwanis, the Lions, Exchange Club, Grange, the Odd Fellows, Rebekahs and the Knights of the Pythias would gather periodically for food, fellowship and planning projects to improve local quality of life.
These days, a tiny percentage remain, such as the Knights of Columbus, Gun Lake Federation of Women’s Clubs-Gun Lake, Wayland and Martin Lions Clubs and Chamber of Commerce. Virtually all of them readily admit to their biggest problem being finding enough volunteers to help carry out projects.
This problem is so severe that I daresay the Then & Now historical service for northeast Allegan County will die a horrible death when the few remaining volunteers shrug off their mortal coils. Who will replace them?
Putnam, in “Bowling Alone,” listed several reasons for the decline of social capital in modern American society:
- The entrance of women in the work force, taking them away from neighborhoods and community activities and placing them in offices, plants, stores and agencies.
- The meteoric rise in the popularity of television, beckoning people to stay home rather than go out into town events.
- The Internet and other tech devices that lure citizens into comfy personal spaces at the expense of meaningfully interacting with other human beings face to face.
- The recent dominance of social and political philosophy that elevates the individual self above the group or wider community. We aren’t encouraged to organize or gather, unless it’s to spend our money.
The social and economic consequences of “Bowling Alone,” the latest of which is the death of Wayland Kiwanis, are continuing to be felt.
I mourn the passing of this wonderful collective approach to living.