Dr Muriel, the Counselor, had lived for more than thirty years in the same neighborhood when she wrote this note on community responsibility. The neighborhood, her neighborhood, had gone through many changes in those years.
When she moved to the ‘large city’ of Portland from the smaller city of Bangor, Maine, it was a major change in what a neighborhood was. In Bangor she had lived on the edge of a small city of thirty thousand. In the field behind her house were animals and wild plants. Though the houses on the street were near each other, the total number of houses was perhaps a dozen on the street. Every neighbor knew the other and the whole community were socially connected. If a child misbehaved he (it usually was a he) was often taken by the ear to his parent’s home.
In the big city of Portland she lived deep inside a neighborhood with houses close on all sides. Every year or two, someone would discover how to fit in another house into the already crowded neighborhood.
By many standards it wasn’t that crowded, yet it was very cosmopolitan. It was unusual if you knew more than a few other people on the street. People moved in and out so frequently that there was no continuity in the social structure.
During those years she saw a somewhat stable neighborhood grow increasingly more dynamic and unstable. People broke large single family houses into apartment buildings.
Criminal activity seemed to grow every year. Each time the crime was getting closer to her home and family. Her mother-in-law had the trunk of her car torn open in this city.
She saw the environment around her changing and no one was doing much about it. When the opportunity arose to become part of an organization to try to act on the problem she did what she could to try to make a difference.
She had already worked to make a difference with youth who had gone astray by directing a literacy program at the ‘Youth Center’. She had also helped several youths continue high school during difficult times.
She was very proud seeing her neighbors organize in a way to begin to address some of the issues that were pulling the neighborhood down.
These are the notes of Dr. Muriel R. McKenney, the Counselor, on Community Responsibility:
“Congratulations neighbors for forming, (for) becoming involved and (for) involving others in a neighborhood organization. I believe that this is a very important venture for everyone, especially for our children, our greatest asset. For they are us; moving into the future. We are their models, their guides, their support system, and their launching pad.
Not only the parents, but the neighborhood and community as a whole bear responsibility for the children. We realize how connected we all are when we hear about cases of drug abuse, voyeurism in the high school, vandalism, and other unpleasant happenings in our neighborhood. We feel disheartened and wonder what we could have done to prevent this behavior. Conversely, when we hear of successes in the neighborhood, we feel encouraged and a sense of pride in ‘our’ neighbor. After all, they are one of us.
The need to belong, to love and be loved, is one of our most basic psychological needs. We are constantly striving to fulfill our need to belong throughout our lifetime, beginning at birth with the bonding process with our mother. This closeness is our first experience of being loved, and our first lesson in how to love which is an extremely important developmental event.
If we are fortunate enough to be loved and accepted when we are born, we have a head start on becoming a fully functioning adult who feels worthwhile, and is capable of giving and receiving love. However, if our need to belong is not met because of one or more of the multitude of reasons that can cause this rejection to happen, we are unfortunate indeed. No amount of material wealth or physical care can compensate for the lack of love or the rejection experienced.
We learn to love ourselves by being loved; we learn that we are unlovable by being rejected. Psychologically, children do to themselves that which is done to them, and to believe what they are told about themselves. Their behavior is based directly upon how they perceive themselves, whether worthwhile of worthless. When their self-perception changes; their behavior changes.
The stronger the sense of belonging, the greater is the capability to love and be loved, to cooperate, and to compete honestly rather than ruthlessly without care or regard for their competitors. Also, displays of destructive acting-out behavior may be observed. This venting of anger due to perceived rejection may be a bid for attention. Usually the kind of attention received, instead of meeting their belonging needs, further alienates them and their sense of isolation, loneliness, and worthlessness grows.
The chances of feeling this desperate are much less in a caring, cohesive neighborhood where the chances of acceptance and involvement are greater, and where the smallest deeds affect everyone and like a pebble dropped into a pool, the ripples vibrate through the whole neighborhood. I believe wholeheartedly that a neighborhood organization is beneficial to everyone, and a wonderful way to gain a sense of belonging.”
Thus end the notes of The Counselor.
The Counselor is no longer able to organize or help others organize. These days she does her best to remember what is beautiful in life. Even as Alzheimer’s steals her past moments, she is always quick to notice how nice people are and how important.