Friday, March 18, 2016

Had I Been a Millionaire

When you click through to the last slide on the PowerPoint, answer the last question, fold up your notes and pack up the laptop, there is a certain amount of satisfaction in having delivered a presentation. That is: if you like teaching. If you are built for that, you live for it.

Not to say that everything will run perfectly every time. Yet, it wasn't until after completing the presentation last night for our local genealogical society that I realized the detractors which became my stealth competitors. Not that I had any control over them; in fact, I didn't even sense their presence until after I stepped in front of the podium to answer questions from the audience.

It was the hiss from the speaker that was my first clue. Crackling, when nothing was being said. The muffled sound that volume just couldn't overcome. Then there was the stillness of the air, growing incrementally warmer until that "is it just me?" question got asked by too many people. How much my audience had to bear with the "technical difficulties" of facility maintenance in exchange for a meeting home, free of rent.

Our local society is hosted at one of our city's branch libraries. We like our borrowed home. We have a good relationship with the staff there—indeed, with those at the main library, as well. As organizational histories go, we can say we go back a long way with the city's library system.

But libraries aren't often on the top ten list for funding projects, come budget time. And when it's crunch time for city governments, "luxuries" like libraries find themselves in a precarious position. And so the audience in the library's community room sits through a class, roasting from the heat from this sunny California spring day, because someone sneaked up on the roof under cover of darkness to strip all the metal from the air conditioning system and sell it as scrap for pennies on the dollar. Now, not only does the library have to replace the material to regain an adequate air handling system, but devise a system to prevent future thefts.

When I hear stuff like that, part of me thinks, "If only I were a millionaire."

Another part of me wakes up to a realization. Had I been a millionaire, I would have missed the lesson.

There are some people who think that, if an entity is big enough, it can easily slough off any problems. "Stick it to the big guy" because "they won't notice." Deep pockets are a reality—in some people's minds.

The truth of the matter is, no matter how big "big government" gets, it is still us. We are the ones who lose when someone slips off with a piece of what we bought—if we, as "the people," bought it for the benefit of all of us. It is not millionaires—the big guys—who have provided these community benefits. It is the collective of all us little people.

True, in a poorer community, the amenities collected by the aggregate won't be as glamorous as the proud features in the community which is well off. The inverse should be as obvious: those little losses sustained by thoughtless theft represent a larger percentage of damage to that same little community. It hurts more when those who can least afford it have been hit by loss.

Perhaps that means people in our community's condition should be more alert to such damage—to sit up and take notice. Maybe that is why Neighborhood Watch programs are experiencing a renaissance in our area; it's harder to pay for something a second time when you could barely afford it the first time.

Building community—something I think the more successful genealogical societies are aiming to do within their own membership—goes beyond just buying stuff with money. It involves donations, sure, but it also takes commitments of time, effort, patience, talent, knowledge. We share what we have to offer—and are glad to do so—because we are building community. Because we are community, we amplify that effort by partnering with others sharing our mission. For genealogical organizations, libraries are our perfect allies.

Naturally, partners want to be mutually supportive of each other's organizational needs. So when the facility which has hosted our meetings for decades suffers a loss, our society wants to help make a difference for them. While we all wish we could be the millionaire in shining armor who comes galloping to the rescue, though, sometimes the best help is to stick to the method that built that relationship in the first place: be part of the day-to-day supportive community that realizes that what harms the whole harms all the parts of that whole. And be part of that shoulder-to-shoulder support system that says no to those who mean us harm. When we realize that a loss to any one of us is a loss to the entire community, that's rich. When we realize the actions we—the people—take can make the difference, that's priceless. That's when we become millionaires.

Above: "Under the Bridge at Hampton Court," 1874 painting by Impressionist landscape artist Alfred Sisley; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. If enough people want something - they should band together and pay for it. If we left the Government (and it's cut) out of things - we'd probably have at least 50% more to enjoy.


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