The Root Cause and the Real Answer PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sam Skillern   

I've been in dozens of meetings the past several years where top-notch community leaders take on a particular problem in the community. Invariably, that famous question gets asked: "What's the root cause?"

All around the community, as more and more folks get involved, they too will ask: "What's the root cause?"

The stated answers come from a familiar list: poverty, child abuse, crime, lack of education or health care, etc. I contend, however, that these are not root causes. They are symptoms. Symptoms of the real root cause. A root cause that is harder to recognize because it's something that plagues everyone, not just those who are struggling. A root cause that plagues all of "us," not just the needy "them."

I contend the root cause is this: People don't know each other anymore, which means we don't care about each other, which means we don't care for each other. To use scriptural language, we don't "love our neighbor as ourself."

We have come to depend on government and the schools and nonprofits to do the caring. We have cocooned ourselves from our neighbors in need. Too often, even our family members in need. Technology and medical miracles have distanced us from pain, but also from compassion. Only grandparents seem to have those amazing stories of deep response to deep need. Does it take a Great Depression to produce truly good neighbors?

What would happen if we got to know each other again? In our neighborhoods. At the office. In the schools.

It's happening in Salem-Keizer. Slowly but surely. Many people are compelled by the crises we face as a community. Many people are inspired by their faith. People — and organizations — are reaching out to build relationships. This trend has been vividly showcased by the Statesman Journal's Raising A Community series, for which our community should be deeply grateful.

The answer isn't more food, blankets, toys and money. These commodities are needed, for sure, and we should all be generous. As a starting point.

But the real answer to the root cause isn't "stuff." It is "relationship." It's me. And you. Helping our neighbor.

It can be as simple as picking up the mail and feeding pets when neighbors are on vacation. It can be as complicated as becoming a foster parent or walking alongside an ex-offender coming back from prison. There are lots of options in between.

My favorite is being a Reading Buddy at Highland School, helping a first-grader learn to read. Teaching chess at Grant School and coaching in Parrish Little League are right up there, too. Enjoying a meal with homeless families through the Interfaith Hospitality Network. Volunteering at one of the many Churches as Neighborhood (CaN) Centers. Helping a high-schooler become the first in the family to attend college.

People helping people. It can be a sacrifice. It can take away from our leisure and our personal pleasure. But it's also the best investment we can make in a healthy community.

Root cause? It's you and me. Solution? It's you and me.

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