December 28, 2007

Steve Padilla

REFLECTIONS ON COMMUNITY

This time of year brings many things, especially reflections about hope, and what matters most in life. We gather around our family and friends, nurture strong bonds, re-establish some old ones and lay the foundation for new connections both with ourselves and with others. This time is about more than craziness, stress, and holiday chores dominating our time and thoughts. It’s a time to reflect.

In this spirit, I share some reflections about our local community and our nation. Community is not a physical place of familiar landmarks. It is not facilities, parks, or playgrounds, grand schemes or grand building designs. It is not the size of the budget, the number of millionaires or corporate offices within city borders, not brick and mortar, the number of libraries, firefighters or police officers. No, “community” really is the interaction between people. It is the way we conduct ourselves with each other, the beating hearts and souls gathered in a common place we call home. Community is how we relate to one another, support and value one another - or not. There is much good, and there is much more work to be done.

It is a busy time in the life of our country, and our local region is no exception. Too often, when people discuss and debate what is needed for “community”, they forget what community really is – each other. It’s ironic how easily we can de-humanize one another in the name of humanity. The needs are many, as are the different opinions about what is right, what is wrong and what should be done. But that troubling trend never seems to change – the inability to accept our differences while claiming to fight for the benefit of all.

In San Diego County, some city councils create great debates where there are none while ignoring ones they should be having. They argue late in to the evening about assuming the responsibilities of the federal government for immigration enforcement while money and resources are scarce and broader needs are neglected. Don’t get me wrong – I believe in lawful immigration and playing by the rules, but I also believe in building common ground, and not vilifying immigrants in the land of Lady Liberty.

In my home community of Chula Vista, distrust has lead to a dysfunctional city council, endless arguments about downtown redevelopment, the stalling of critical plans, ballot measures, lawsuits and counter-lawsuits. People on each side of every issue accuse the other of everything but treason in the name of the “community.” Everything is present – except consensus building.

Nationwide, the media spends more time on the fact that Britney Spears’ sister is pregnant than real issues like ending the war, immigration reform or health care. While children pick up automatic weapons and go on killing sprees, and the middle class shrinks, the airwaves are filled with gossip passing as news. What did Hillary really say to Obama when apologizing to him? Does Mitt Romney belong to the right religion?

Ever get those annoying email chains with cartoons and “jokes” attached? Sure, I have a sense of humor, but some just don’t seem to evoke laughter. One was a false holiday greeting from the White House showing the first lady nude from the waist down. While I am no fan of her husband, I wonder what happened to some level of respect for a human being? Another recent favorite was all about how Barack Obama is really an anti-Christian Islamic terrorist and isn’t patriotic. Still another pictured a future President Hillary Clinton receiving advice from the ghost of Abe Lincoln, telling her that in order to help the country, she really should go to the theatre. No, that doesn’t even approach funny.

Closer to home once again, I have been both blessed to see the best of my community and saddened to see the worst. I have seen people help strangers evacuated for fear of fire, and I have stood on a street-corner waving to passing cars when seeking re-election, only to be spit upon and called names I won’t repeat here.

I recently replied to one of those hateful email “jokes” with a quote from the past. The year was 1968, another time of great change. Another Senator from New York was running for President named Robert F. Kennedy. On April 4th of that year, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated and Senator Kennedy was scheduled to speak in Indianapolis. After he spoke, it was the only major city that did not experience some form of riot or protest. His words are still very true, and I’ll let them be my holiday wish for community in our land. He said in part:

“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country…….Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.” Amen.

Padilla served as Chula Vista Mayor from 2002-06 and on the California Coastal Commission from 2005-07. He is President/CEO of Aquarius Group, Inc. and can be contacted at: spadilla@aquariusgroup.org.

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