When “We” Became “Me”

It started happening after JFK was assassinated, followed by Martin Luther King’s death and finally the brutal slaying of JFK’s brother, Robert in the kitchen of a hotel in Los Angeles.  We were beginning to shift from a culture of “we” that began after the troops came back from the “big war – WWII” and everyone wanted to get back to normal life – having families, friends, and earn enough money to take a vacation every year, pay your bills and be able to educate your kids so that they would have a chance at a better life.

I was a kid in the fifties and it was a time when there was a real sense of community – definitely a “we” feeling in many ways.  Our backyards all connected into one big play field for all the kids in the neighborhood with the “woods” being the un-chartered territory beyond. We ran free, till dark, feeling like our own tribe of “we” with our own set of rules. Everyone pretty much looked out for one another –parents looked out for their neighbors’ kids, kids watched out for other kids, moms helped out other moms and dads the same.  We had a sense of community.

In the late sixties things began to change.  The Vietnam War was in full swing, along with the Civil Rights Movement and student unrest was building to the “Arab Spring” of its times. Our dreams were beginning to fade – our friends were coming home in body bags, our cities and neighborhoods were being destroyed during the riots of the late sixties, and our leaders were assassinated, one after another.  A shift was starting to happen.  We were becoming divided.  Fences and hedges started to divide our backyards, breaking up that once endless playing field.  We were starting to become more about “me.”

As a culture we roared through the 80’s and 90’s following a path as a society that believed that in order to win, others had to lose.  We became greedy, thinking only of our personal gain and caring little how that affected others. The divide among us has exceeded beyond what most of us would have ever thought possible.  We have made an art of  “ how to get nothing done” with our political system and no one is getting anywhere.  We are expending so much negative energy and if we don’t turn that around, we are all doomed.

I’m not a pessimist – just the opposite. I think if we can all just stop and flip our mindset into what we “can do”, instead of slamming the “other guy”, we just might be able to turn things around.  I see a younger generation, the 25-30 year olds who are thinking more in terms of the “we”, and getting away from the “me” mentality.  I have great hopes for this generation. We are at a turning point.  I’d like to look back at this time 10 years from now and say to myself  “I’m glad I did something.”

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Making a Difference

I’ve always been quite active as a volunteer in my community.  When my daughter was going through the school system, I was very involved with various committees and events throughout the years. What I enjoyed most was being able to share my gift of expertise as a professional photographer and filmmaker.  One year I produced, shot and edited a piece for the school’s International Baccalaurete Program highlighting what some of the students were doing for the CAS portion of the program.  CAS stands for Creative Action and Service and  the students need to spend a certain number of hours in each of these areas.  So I created a short video made up of interviews with current students talking about what types of things they were doing to fulfill those hours.  I also took whatever still photos and video that the kids or their parents provided me and worked it into the piece.  The video was a hit amongst the kids, their parents and the teachers and will be archived to show future students contemplating the IB program.

I’m not so involved with the schools now that my daughter has graduated, and I miss that community connection and what I got from that personally. I do mentor high school kids from time to time who are interested in photography and video and I love to work with the passionate ones.  And last year my husband/partner, Tom and I shot and produced Freedom’s Ride, a short documentary about 20 predominately white students from our high school district and 20 predominately black students from a public school in Harlem, NY who rode the bus to and from Alabama, retracing the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. That was an incredible and rewarding experience for all.

Currently we sit on the board of our local public access TV station Mendham TV.  Independently Tom and I have produced 20 half hour talk shows for the station, called Mendham People.  We recruited local people for hosts who came up with various local people to interview in a Charlie Rose type format.  One of our hosts was our local postal clerk, Pete.  We live in an area where we don’t get mail delivery so everyone goes to the post office on a daily basis and sees Pete. So he’s a well known figure and knows everyone in town.  Recently our station started airing the town’s public meetings.  The station isn’t funded but we managed to get volunteers and trained them to shoot the meetings. I’ve started attending town meetings  and I feel much more in touch with my community.  Volunteering on the board of the local TV station has kept us involved with our community and is a way for us to continue to “give back” to our community.

It’s always nice of course when I get personally thanked or recognized in some small way for my volunteer efforts, but the biggest reward is always  how it makes me feel.  I believe we all can make a difference even in the smallest acts of “giving” and to all those who have shared their time and talents, you know how rewarding it is personally. I’ll end with a quote by Arthur Ashe.

“From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.”

—Arthur Ashe (1943-1993), professional tennis player, civil rights supporter

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