THE BONDS OF OUR COMMUNITIES HAVE WITHERED
Odd Fellows research is clear: there is a decline of community in our modern era. Odd Fellows recognize that modern society is eroding many forms of community life, social attachments, and a shared sense of comradeship, unity, and support. Some research has indicated a decline in community theater, festival, and football attendance. A lack of community has debilitating psychological and physical effects on people. Being Odd Fellows means we are called to work on this concern locally and internationally. We must also come to understand more about the decline of community.
U.S. sociologist Robert Putnam states that “the social glue that binds together individuals and wider collectives is referred to as ‘social capital.‘” This social capital is created by
people voluntarily associating with one another and being involved in social and civic networks. But compared to 50 years ago, there is a decline in our shared sense of moral obligation and community.
Putnam uses three links (does that sound familiar?) to illustrate what makes up social capital: bonds, bridges, and linkages. Bonds are created by a sense of common identity with friends, family, and community members. Bonds with friends and family can lead to getting a job or a place to live. Bridges include bonds, and also extend to include colleagues, associates, and acquaintances. Linkages connect groups and individuals further up or down the social ladder.
Lately there has been a decline of traditional suburban neighborhoods as some people move back into downtown areas of cities and because of social media and personal technology. This creates a bit of destabilization as people attempt to create new communities. But also, we are becoming more individualized because of long commutes alone in automobiles, and being engaged alone with iPods, laptops, online gaming, and smartphones. This means not only that people will spend less time involved with voluntary and community gatherings (like concerts, festivals, parades, and the movies), but also that they’ll spend less time with friends and family. And even though we may be chatting, gaming, or texting we’re still alone because we are not in contact with the “whole person” on the other end of that text.
So, social capital grows from a sense of common identity and shared values like trust, good will, and fellowship. This leads to the creation of voluntary and civic institutions like Odd Fellowship that helps hold communities together. But, as we’ve become more individualized with personal technology, we have disengaged from community affairs, our friends and neighbors and family. It’s easy to see that if our community connections wither, people will become increasingly unstable.
The challenge for Odd Fellowship is to figure out how to work within the concept of communities that, because of our modern lifestyle, are withering. How do we step into this void and show people how a fraternal order can benefit them? But also: how do we step in and help communities affected by individualization revitalize themselves?
Odd Fellowship already fills Putnam’s “three links.” We provide the Bonds, Bridges, and Linkages, but how do we better illustrate this to people who are looking for a way to connect with others? What problems does IOOF have that keep it from communicating its values to those who need Friendship, Love, and Truth? Are we avoiding making in-house decisions that could reform IOOF so it can better help remake communities? If so, what would these decisions be? If not, how do we do better?
Scott Moye is an award-winning history educator and collector of Arkansas folklore. He grew up on a cotton farm and is currently a museum worker. Hobbies include: old house restoration, writing, amateur radio, Irish traditional music, archery, craft beer, old spooky movies, and street performance. He is a member of Marshall Lodge #1, in Marshall, Arkansas, and a founder of Heart In Hand Blog. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org