The following is a guest blog post written by Bill Hemminger, editor of Growing Good: A Beginner’s Guide to Cultivating Caring Communities.
Why did I put together Growing Good: A Beginner’s Guide to Cultivating Caring Communities? Partly it was the insistence of friends that I describe my own varied volunteer experiences and explain why I have been drawn to voluntarism throughout my life. Now I am retired after a career of teaching—on all levels—and the activity (research, lecturing, publishing) associated with that teaching. People ask (embarrassingly often, it so happens) what I do now that I am retired. Many wonder if I travel a lot (a curious question for someone who values being involved with his home community) or if I have a part-time job.
So, in the course of the last year or so, here’s my answer: I run a large community garden program; I run a local food pantry; I work with homeless agencies in town to manage finances for a number of recently-housed clients; I am a CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocate) and work with a young man who luckily may soon be adopted; I opened a local chapter of Death Café (where people come together to talk about death and dying in context of being very much vital and alive) and ran meetings for more than a year; I regularly interview the conductor of our fine orchestra on the local NPR station and then review the concerts in the classics series for our newspaper; I help clean up a local park that is part of the Sycamore Land Trust; and (up until COVID-19 hit) I have taught ESL (English as a Second Language) as part of a free program in our town. And I love to cook, to play the piano, to sing, to accompany singers, to accompany my wife (a flutist), to tend my backyard chickens, to keep my city lot from having any grass in it at all.
Having lived and worked in African countries over the years and, for that matter, having worked in impoverished sections of my own city, Evansville, Indiana, I have witnessed firsthand that the world is a painfully inequitable place. People with great ability and drive may be hampered by the effects of racism or sexism or lousy home conditions. Others may actually suffer from too much opportunity, much as we are now a society (in the US) where more people are overfed or fed unhealthful food than are food insecure. We all occupy the same planet, we are informed by social media, we know what others lack. It is for me a moral stance to do what I can to rectify whatever injustices I feel I might be able to address.
Much of what I have read lately baldly reaffirms that homo sapiens is not, by definition, altruistic. The opposite may more likely be the case: humans are congenitally selfish, interested in themselves and their own welfare above all else. They may extend their ambit of concern to members of a tribe, however that is constituted, and much recent political history in the US describes the pernicious qualities of that tribal loyalty. Happily, though, there are many examples to the contrary, where people are encouraged to look outside of themselves—and not for applause or CV-building actions but to what they, as humans, automatically understand about their human relatives. Such is the beginning of caring; it may also be the root of community.
About the Author
Bill Hemminger is author of African Son, a collection of reflections on his life and work in Africa. He taught for 25 years in the departments of English and Foreign Languages at the University of Evansville and was Chair of the Department of English.
Growing Good: A Beginner’s Guide to Cultivating Caring Communities is available wherever books are sold.