In October 2013, the Community Foundation launched its Smart and Caring Communities program and since that time we’ve been asking ourselves: “What does it mean to be a smart and caring community?”
To some people it means looking after our young people. To someone else it means looking after the physical environment, or those living in poverty, or seniors. Still others will believe that a smart and caring community is one that has a vibrant arts sector. And, let us not forget other important causes like health, education and animal welfare.
This diversity of opinion is healthy and, I would argue, essential to finding a true definition for what it means to be “smart and caring.” How can a community define itself as caring if it doesn’t look after the young, the old, the poor, the helpless, and the ill? How can a community define itself as smart if it doesn’t look after education, the environment or the arts?
It is my premise, then, that we can only be considered a smart and caring community if we take special note of all of our community’s needs. In the community foundation world we like to call this “360 degree funding.” This means that we provide grants to every area of community need because every area of need is important. By supporting all of the needs of a community we make our community healthier, more vibrant and more livable.
If, as regular citizens, we can adopt a “360 degree vision” of our community then we will quickly find our way to becoming smarter and more caring. So what does it mean to have “360 degree vision?”
360 degree vision means respecting and honouring differences. It means acknowledging that your ideas and opinions or are just that — ideas and opinions. A 360 degree vision is one that sees the value of different perspectives. Someone who practices this 360 degree view is one who listens more than they speak.
360 degree vision means understanding context. If you see someone walking down the street and their behaviour scares you, the smart and caring thing to do is understand their context, imagine their circumstances in a way that gives them the benefit of the doubt and, above all, have some compassion.
That scary, 20-year-old drug addict is someone’s son, brother, father. He was once a little boy. Perhaps he was neglected when he was young. Perhaps he was abused or lived in dire, poverty stricken conditions. We would have compassion for that eight year old boy because his circumstances are not his fault. But at what age are we allowed to cast off our compassion? At what age does his early victimization now become his “fault?”
Let’s face it: many of us have had decent upbringings and yet our personal habits are almost universally hard to change. Imagine the challenge of changing habits that evolved as coping mechanisms to deal with childhood trauma. How hard would that be?
Someone with 360 degree vision, who is trying to build a Smart &Caring Community, is someone who tries to understand this context, respects each person’s challenges, and honours each person’s place in the world.
Sometimes people ask the community foundation to help them choose “the best” charity to give to or the “most urgent” area of community need. My response is always the same: there isn’t one issue that is more important than another. At a given point in time, it might be true that one issue is more “urgent,” but I would argue that there isn’t one issue that is more important. The key is to support the things you care about and, perhaps most importantly, respect the issues that other people care deeply about.
If we all welcome and accept the passions of other people then we can see the scope of our community with 360 degree vision. If we all step up, and encourage our neighbours to do likewise, for the causes that matter most to us, then together we can build a smarter and more caring community.
Aaron McRann is the executive director of the Community Foundation of the South Okanagan-Similkameen and a guest columnist for the Penticton Western News. For more information on the foundation visit www.cfso.net