Our rapid pace, tech-laden, world has produced a paradox. Well, maybe not produced, I can’t prove causation, but there definitely seems to be a correlation. At least to this guy.

Years ago, around a campfire with my wife and our friend, Owen, we came to the conclusion that the internal combustion engine was society’s tipping point, and since then the world has become increasingly hectic, distances have become shorter. The world became, and continues to become, an ever smaller place. We developed this idea (I’m sure not unique) before Wi-Fi, high-speed internet, and definitely before those stupid smartphones (don’t misunderstand me, I love my i-Phone).

Community, Communication, and Commitment – all have a common root which is, well, “common.”  Public, shared by all or many, general, familiar, society, fellowship, affability, to share, impart, inform, join, unite, connect, combine… basically, bringing together and sharing.

The paradox: while the world is getting smaller, we are becoming more isolated. We easily connect with people from around the world. Just a couple of months ago I couldn’t remember who the quarterbacks were on my high school football team; I messaged a friend in San Diego to see if he could remember. San Diego and where I live in Downeast Maine are literally about as far apart as you can get in the lower 48 contiguous United States, Siri tells me it’s 2,779 miles as the crow flies.

Meanwhile, commitment to community activities and organizations is evaporating.  Many civic organizations and fraternal societies are disappearing, Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs, Granges; you know what I’m talking about. People complain “they don’t have anything in town for ____ (fill in the holiday)” without realizing the irony in their words. They don’t realize that behind every activity, parade, and corn maze is a group of people giving their time to make it happen.

Several years ago, as I was becoming more involved in my community and volunteering, I had a conversation about my involvement with a friend. Their response was “if somebody wants my skills they can pay me.” I was nonplussed.

Growing up, commitment to community was just a given, at least in my family. I have two strong examples that are more than likely the source of my personal devotion to service. The first is my mother. From 1977 to 2010 she was a high school business educator. 32 academic years teaching, and for most of those years she was devoted not only to the success of her students but also the promotion and advancement of her profession. She served on state and national business education association boards and was recognized widely as a dedicated leader in the field. A role model for me without a doubt.

The other example that comes immediately to mind is my maternal grandfather. Born in 1924 he graduated high school and joined the Army Air Forces during WWII. He returned to his hometown and settled down and in 1950, at the age of 26, he was elected to his first term as a town selectman. He would hold a seat on that board for 38 of the next 39 years, until 1989, he passed away in January of 1990. Not only did he serve as selectman, he was also on the school board for 30ish years, belonged to several civic organizations and ran a successful business. I recently came across a newspaper clipping from the mid-1980’s where he was helping with the founding of one of the early community action programs in our county. When I’m asked to volunteer, or serve on a board, it is my grandfather that I think of, it’s his example that guides my decision.

It’s the sense of sharing, of belonging, of contributing to something that is bigger and further reaching than yourself. It’s familiarity and togetherness. It is sharing, of oneself and one’s abilities.  Are we losing that sense of belonging as we gain so much from the advances of our time?  Will the steam engine, the car, the smartphone be the end of society, wedges that separate us from our local, real-time, analog community in favor of a broader, worldwide community of like-minded others?

What do we lose when the news we see is fed to us by an algorithm based on our likes and shares; when our assumptions are reinforced?  What do we lose when we are no longer exposed to different viewpoints, when we are sheltered from ideas we wouldn’t embrace?

For almost all of my community service (not court mandated by the way), I touch and am touched by people I wouldn’t see otherwise. With some I am friendly, but not many are “friends” outside of the boardroom; we don’t make contact and don’t see each other in social settings.  But that’s ok. We are there working together not for ourselves, but for the benefit of our community. We are there because we hope to make a difference.

What do we get out of it? Growth, personal growth and development by exposing ourselves to a bigger world, right in our own small community.

I encourage you to begin your own growth. I encourage you to lend a hand. I think you’ll like it.  My grandfather seemed to.

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This post originally appeared on LinkedIn on September 5, 2016

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