We recently traveled to the east coast for vacation. On our lengthy return flight home, we discovered that we were both given middle seats in different rows. I assumed that we would have no trouble asking our fellow passengers to swap seats so that we could sit together. Granted, I am petite, and have never minded sitting in the middle. My husband was a little more skeptical since he prefers the window seat on a plane. But, if someone asked him to switch so they could sit with their travel partner, he would do it and sacrifice his own comfort for a stranger.
We had 4 people to ask, and therefore 4 shots at getting one person to move. I was optimistic about those odds. The first row we asked turned out to be two women, co-workers, traveling together. “Great!” I said, ecstatically. “So you would get to sit together!” They looked at each other hesitantly. “I actually need the aisle seat,” said one. “I’m sorry,” said the one in the window seat. “But this is the northwest,” she said with a shrug. Implying what? That Seattleites won’t give up their seats for one another? I’ll come back to that later.
I turned to the next row, hoping to meet a sympathetic eye there. Window seat guy put his headphones on and averted his gaze. Aisle seat woman shook her head, also stating that she needed to be in the aisle. So, no luck there.
We grudgingly took our seats in the middle of these unmoving statues and settled in for the ride. It wasn’t a terrible flight, but I felt unsettled the whole time. My preference for seating has never been so important to me that I would refuse to move for another person. What did that one woman mean – “this is the northwest”? As if regional culture permits people to be unaccommodating and resolutely fixed in their personal preferences.
I get that wanting to sit with my husband is also a personal preference. So it might sound like I’m suggesting that my preference is more important than theirs. I’m not. We didn’t sit together and we were fine. I am merely lifting up the behavior of a culture that refuses to bend towards one another. I am wondering what it means for a community that is so individualized that it never practices selfless giving for the sake of others.
What does it look like if a community operates only under the “every person for themselves” mode? What if we only volunteered our time and energy to community projects that would benefit us personally? If we refused to pay taxes to maintain parks we never visit, or to serve schools when we are childless, or to pave streets on roads we never take.
Do we, in North Creek, want to be a community that only gives to expect something in return?
Even the ancient sources of wisdom have many things to say about this. In the simplest terms, it is written: Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back (Luke 6:30). A community that gives to others without expecting anything in return… What would that even look like?
There’s one community group in Bothell that is practicing this kind of selfless giving. It’s called the Green Bee Giving Group. This is a localized giving group for giving/asking for items at no charge. Jene Miller explains that the group started out of the understanding that many of us have usable items that we no longer need. Instead of tossing them or selling the item in order to make a couple extra bucks, we could pass the item along to our neighbors.
Neighbors looking for items are not just those who need a leg up and are going through a rough time. Some neighbors are just looking for a particular item and didn’t know they needed it. Or, they are able to reduce the impact on the environment by saving gas and resources on a new product, as well as ensuring that discarded but perfectly usable items do not end up in landfills. There is also a Lending Library of bins, tools, and items for loan. For example, if you are throwing a themed party, you could borrow a bin filled with decorations and materials geared towards that theme. They have medical equipment like crutches and shower chairs – items that you will likely need only for a short amount of time and will still be usable long after you need it.
The Green Bee Group fosters community among neighbors who share resources and tools, giving people a chance to meet one another through these gifts, all without expecting to get anything out of it in return.
This is the kind of community I want to belong to – Neighbors who give up their seats, their stuff, and their selves for the sake of others.
Find Green Bee Group on facebook