It’s commonly observed that a watched pot never boils. But based on my personal experience, an unwatched pot will come to a boil with astonishing and unexpected rapidity.
In our house, the kitchen is located at the back of the house, meaning that much household business is conducted in actual smoke-filled back rooms. We have overly sensitive smoke detectors, which are quick to sound the alarm once smoke has filled the room, but are no good at preventing food from burning in the first place. I actually burned two batches of bacon in one morning recently, as other matters demanded my attention; and twice in a row I set a pan to cooking and then walked off to deal with something, only to get distracted and realize my mistake when the alarms went off.
Now, because my mind has been taken up with all things political of late, I can’t help but draw a parallel between my own smoke-filled kitchen and the typical cliché of sleazy corruption that pervades the topic of politics. As with most clichés, while there’s often a grain of truth to start the rumor mill churning, further investigation is necessary to reveal the true state of affairs.
During my most recent foray into civic engagement, I had the opportunity to meet and work with a host of local officials and activists, most of who turned out to be diligent and well-intentioned individuals who are dedicated to the mission of improving the community. This is generally accomplished by teamwork, collaboration, communication, volunteerism, and service.
Now, a suspicious individual might be inclined to castigate collaboration and cooperation as cronyism and corruption (and, in fact, some have). But being too quick to jump to the assumption that sweetheart deals and behind-the-scenes shenanigans are going on not only erodes one’s credibility, it also undermines the potential to build relationships that would be necessary to achieve a broad consensus and actually get things done.
Building a sense of community is hard work. It’s certainly tempting to delegate the political research and fact-checking to others, such as watchdog groups or savvy friends; engaging with people, being involved in local affairs, and holding elected officials accountable to their words can be draining and time-consuming. But as with all endeavors in life, those that are worth doing require effort and commitment.
Homeschooling my children is both a tremendous challenge to my ability to get involved in the community (I don’t have hours of free time during typical school hours), and one of the ultimate pathways toward civic involvement. I well remember trooping along with my parents to testify in front of our State Assembly on educational freedom issues as a child, and now I take my kids along with me as we walk our precinct, meeting our neighbors and talking with them about the issues they care passionately about. My children have attended local political meetings, conventions, and public hearings with me, and while they’re often bored by the proceedings, they’re learning how our governmental process functions.
The more I get to know my neighbors and listen to diverse viewpoints, the more I gain an understanding of and appreciation for the challenges that face our leaders and public servants. Not all issues are clear-cut, and being willing to learn the nuances of every issue—what is the real source of the local drug epidemic? Why is our County’s foster care system overloaded? Is there a better way to accommodate the County’s growth than by adjusting property tax rates? Can we afford to extend our local library’s hours?—takes time, effort, and a passion for improving the community.
I don’t always have as much time to devote to every good cause as I would like. But the recipe for a strong community requires that concerned citizens step up and do our part, so I do my best to participate as much as I am able, whether by attending events or by having people over to my house to visit, listen, and make friends.
Even if I burn a few pans of cookies in the process.
Photo Credit: Sec and third images courtesy of Rose Focht.