February 5, 2020

To Improve Your Life and the World, Treat the Communities You Live In As Permanent

Although I was born in Mountain View, California, I’ve never seen the bay area as my home. The longest that I’ve lived in one house was four years. As a result, I have always viewed the homes that I have lived in as nothing more than temporary housing.

Many of you reading this might find this hard to relate to, but in reality, we’re not so different. Many budding college matriculants find themselves moving to a new town for college. Some may move not so far from home, like those whose families live in Troy and attend university in Ann Arbor. Others may move further, such as from Portland, Oregon to Ann Arbor. Then, some move across the world, such as from the Guangzhou province. These people–and most likely you too–will treat these moves as just transient habitation.

Before yesterday, I’ve never felt as if I moved to Ann Arbor because I treated my stay in Ann Arbor as temporary. How could I not? I was only going to be there for two years of college! I was physically there, but my heart wasn’t. If you’ve been to my house on East William St. you’ll know what I mean. Instead of a coffee table that one can purchase on Amazon for as cheap as $10 that can be shipped directly to your house, we taped a large cardboard box shut, and have been using that as our coffee table for over 5 months. The reasoning was, “If I’m only going to be living in this house for at most 9 months, why bother?”

As a result of a seemingly normal day but a new profound change in perspective, I’ve realized just how much of an impact treating temporary housing as your permanent home can be.

It was a rare sunny afternoon on Sunday, the day of the LIV Super Bowl, with the San Francisco 49ers playing the Kansas City Chiefs. Mind you, this was the first sunny day we’ve had in what seemed like weeks. It was 45 degrees Fahrenheit, the perfect temperature for a run. As I walked down East William street towards the University of Michigan campus Diag, I stopped in my tracks as I heard a loud crunching sound. I was halfway across the crosswalk on the right side of the street when I turned my head to try and locate where the sound was coming from. I saw some boxes flying across the street and what looked like a white blob in the direct center of the intersection of the two roads. Had this been any other day, I would have ignored the commotion and moved on with my day. But not today. Today was different.

I raised my hand to signal a halting motion to a gray Hyundai SUV stopped directly across from me and walked closer to the center of the intersection to investigate the cause. I saw a gallon bucket of Hellman’s mayo squashed open, with the lid gone and remnants of mayo gushing out of both ends of the bucket. I picked it up, walked to the nearest recycling bin and set it next to it. I looked to see if there was anything else left on the road and saw a middle-eastern looking guy walking next to a blonde girl with two cardboard boxes in his hands. I waved to him, yelled “thank you” from across the intersection and continued walking down the sidewalk. Up until today, it never crossed my mind that Ann Arbor was my home. Somehow, in those few seconds that this event took place, I had realized that if Ann Arbor were my home, I wouldn’t want trash on my streets. Just like picking up trash from your living room, I was merely taking care of my home.

What changed, I’m not quite sure. Maybe it had to do with not being a student in Ann Arbor anymore. As a result of moving so often, I’ve never felt attached to the communities that I’ve been a part of. Therefore, it never made sense to invest my energy in improving the communities and as a side-effect, I have also never considered volunteering. The presumption was why would I? I wouldn’t be there much longer. Whether you like it or not, by living in Ann Arbor, you have become part of the Ann Arbor community. If you treat it like a longer-term home, you will want to invest in it. Not only does being part of the community you live in feel satisfying, but I believe, it is also a duty to involve yourself in the local community, just like citizens of a democracy should involve themselves in politics–even if it’s minimal involvement–and vote. It is only when people immerse themselves into their environment can the world improve, one community at a time.

From that incident onward, I began to see the streets as a part of my home and the people as a part of my community. I sought to, and successfully, made connections with the local cashier at Bruegger’s Bagels by simply asking him how his day was and talking about how nice the weather was and later making conversation with a student waiting for his take-out at Totoro’s Sushi restaurant. It is immersing yourself completely in these short and passing moments that make life meaningful and worth living. Don’t just treat yourself as a part of the community, but the community as also a part of you. Only when you feel like you belong to part of a community will you invest your resources into it.

My main takeaways:

  1. Attempt to make other constituents of your community feel like they belong. If people feel like they belong, they will want to improve the community. People who don’t feel like they belong to a community will not invest their energy and resources into improving it. The world would be a much better place if everybody felt like they belonged and treated their communities as their own.
  2. Be diligent. Usually, nobody is watching if you try to throw an empty water bottle into a trash bin and miss and don’t pick it up, or if you litter, but if these streets were your home, would you still treat it like that? How do you want other people to view your community? Do you want your community to be associated with litter and garbage? Or do you want your community to be associated with cleanliness? How do you want people to view your community members? Would you rather people associate Ann Arbor with friendly people who help each other out or selfish people who give the cold shoulder when help is needed? Be diligent in everything little thing you do.

© Wesley Tian 2019

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