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Fight apathy, seek out 'community' and remember lessons of Unity Week

Along with the much-touted and well-publicized car and mattress sales, summer comes with a slew of community events — parades, barbeques, backyard parties. The key word here is “community,” which goes hand in hand, in my mind, with the word “unity.” And that goes quite nicely with the phrase “sometimes conveniently overlooked.”

This past school year, Lake Oswego High School held a Unity Week, which entailed five days of school bonding culminating in a school-wide assembly in which all students heard their peers tell stories about their struggles and how they overcame those obstacles. It was all nice and pat-on-the-back-y until the next week, when it seemed that the “lessons” we learned vanished into thin air. Unity is a big word, and apparently none of us wanted to tackle it. So we continued — and will continue — to draw the thick line between “us” and “them.” We sit at our table; they sit at theirs. Which leaves the lonely person at the edge of the table, eating lunch in silence as the rest of us chatter away.

The problem began when we all started spreading out from each other, moving into private suburban homes walled in by fences and pretty lawns. The advent of the Internet exacerbated the growing disconnect, allowing people to interact with each other with the added bonus of not actually having to participate in the interaction face-to-face. But that lack of human contact adds to a growing sense of separation from the world as a whole.

Ask any teenager what he feels when he’s messaging his friends on Facebook or Snapchatting them pictures of his latest haircut. For myself, the accurate emotion is apathy (which is technically a lack of emotion, so I’m being a little paradoxical). I sit behind a computer screen and vaguely smile at funny pictures, but that’s about it.

We’ve successfully isolated ourselves from the world, for the most part — it’s all too easy to sit back and watch as “other people” do their thing and live their lives. But that can change. Next time you buy coffee, compliment the barista on her hairstyle. Smile. Leave some change in the tip jar. Wave at strangers in the street; comment on how cute their dogs are. Invite the new family down the road to your neighborhood barbeque next weekend; bake them some cookies the week after.

Sure, we’re all entitled to some grumpy days from time to time. But if you choose to, you might be able to brighten someone else’s grumpy day with a simple gesture, a simple action that goes against your instinct to turn into a porcupine.

Adary Zhang is a resident of Lake Oswego.

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