At the 2011 Winter Forum, Dr. Helen Kivnick talked with Harry Hobson about her longtime collaboration with Erik and Joan Erikson, who were pioneers in the field of lifespan human development. She spoke about their concept of "vital involvement" - the idea that all of us, no matter what our age, benefit when we are actively connected and contributing in the community where we live. I resonated with Dr. Kivnick's comments, as I see examples of vital involvement everyday in my home neighborhood of Central-Cocoanut, in the Newtown community here in Sarasota County. Over the past two years, I have been following the lead of children in my neighborhood as we come together in everyday moments to connect with each other as fellow neighbors, and to explore the particular 50-block patch of Sarasota that we call home. I've noticed that when neighbors' homes are available as informal gathering spots, and a spirit of neighborhood exploration is celebrated "on the block," kids are naturally inclined to initiate connections and form relationships across generations - especially with older adults. Here are some of the ways I see this happening:
- Children seek out their grandparents when they live nearby, and are eager to "share" them with fellow neighborkids.
- As children express curiosity about older adult neighbors -- inquiring about the flowers in their yards, the decorations on their front porches, or the personalities of their pets -these neighbors respond with a natural spirit of hospitality, offering nurturance and sharing wisdom.
- Children are often the ones who create opportunities for younger and middle-aged adults to connect with older adults. Relationships form among us grown-ups as we are drawn together by the neighborliness of kids.
- Children delight in opportunities to take the lead in everyday experiences of neighborliness, and to contribute to the neighborhood in meaningful ways. They proudly claim their neighbor identity (as distinct from family member, student, or team member identities), and recognize that they share this identity with other people of all ages in the neighborhood.
- Kids are quick to tell and re-tell stories of our shared recent experiences in the neighborhood, the "local oral history" that connects us across generations, and their exuberance is contagious.
All to say - if we want to experience vital involvement from the time we're born through the fullness of our old age, we might want to consider more intentionally following the lead of the children among us in our home neighborhoods. We might also keep in mind that it's not just a matter of becoming engaged in programs, services and institutions in our community. Everyday opportunities are possible on our doorstep, wherever we live, and a lot can be gained from cultivating vital involvement "on the block."
So how about you? Where do you see vital involvement manifesting here in Sarasota County, and what might it suggest for all of us?