A small example of what makes us a community
OK, it's just a little thing. On the other hand, it might be one of those little things that say something important about who we are as people.
I am talking about those plastic coin holders that sit next to cash registers at many convenience stores, restaurants and other small places that handle lots of cash. It is an interesting concept. Some of us put our "spare" change in these holders, and others of us take this same change out when we want to avoid getting spare change of our own.
We are almost always complete strangers to each other; there is nothing personal about this transaction. And it works entirely on the honor system.
There is nothing to keep somebody from just emptying all the accumulated change in all these coin holders and never putting anything back.
That's not how it works, though. I have never seen anybody take a hand full of change and walk off. In fact, the coin holders are seldom empty. Somebody always drops in a few pennies, nickels or dimes that they don't want to carry around. And other people take out just enough pennies, nickels or dimes to round off their bills.
Even store clerks get into the act. I've seen a minimum wage cashier reach into his pocket and pull out a penny to help out an seemingly more prosperous customer.
There is a technical word that probably best captures such behavior: "communitarianism." That's a very long word that points to our tendency to -- or need to -- gather together in supportive and caring communities. This need encompasses our willingness to take actions and even make sacrifices for the common good. It also includes the idea that it is sometimes OK for some of us to give more and others of us to take more, depending on what we have and what we need. We trust that it will all work out in the end. It has become popular to suggest that we are a divided and divisive people -- Red State vs. Blue State, urban vs. suburban, religion vs. religion, race vs. race, and so on. On an individual basis, we are supposed to be self-centered and selfish. I can't make a case that all these divisions don't exist just because we dump our spare change in a dish at the corner store. And self-centeredness and selfishness is certainly alive and well.
Then, again, we also pull over to help somebody we don't know to change a flat tire, or hold a door open for someone with her arms full, or let another car into a line of traffic ahead of ours, or donate time and money to charities.
We are polite and welcoming to others no matter what state, city or town they come from. We work, play and even worship together despite our differing faiths, races and ethnic groups. Sometimes I wonder if down deep we aren't a lot more of a community than we give ourselves credit for. Let's hope so.
• Dr. Ken Potts is on the staff of Samaracare Counseling Center in Naperville and Downers Grove. He is the author of "Mix Don't Blend, A Guide to Dating, Engagement and Remarriage With Children."