Social critic and professor of political science at Harvard, Robert Putnam, wrote a book about a decade ago called "Bowling Alone." The book tells of the great demise of groups and organizations that once served as the cultural and political backbone of communities across this nation. Since its publication, much has been written and said about the book.
The story goes something like this: Once upon a time, not long ago, entire communities would pack into school auditoriums and lecture halls across America to discuss and debate the most pressing local issues of the day. Once indelible, organizations like the PTA, labor unions, Rotary Clubs, Boy and Girl Scouts, Lions Clubs International, the Red Cross, and many others, have since become hollowed out remnants of a bygone era. These groups were part of an ethos where it was as much a civic duty as it was a moral obligation to be actively engaged in one's community. Most of these organizations still remain, but sadly participation is dismal.
Putnam lamented that these traditional organizations were being increasingly crowded out by new organizations like AARP and the Sierra Club. Whereas, with traditional organizations, members would interact face-to-face on a regular basis, these new groups tended to rely upon "tertiary associations" where "the only act of membership consists in writing a check for dues or perhaps occasionally reading a newsletter."
In prescient fashion, Putnam also forewarned us of the negative effect technology would have toward inhibiting active community participation. Something is lost when we replace the raucous union hall with the solitariness of staring blankly at a computer screen. That something is social capital. For Putnam, social capital "refers to features of social organization that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit."
Last Friday night, Megan Combies tried and tried and tried some more to get her first muscle-up. What was even more inspiring than her "Thomas the Tank Engine" tenacity was seeing the entire gymnastics class cheer her on. Class was already over, but no one left. As a community, we understand that such milestones are a shared experience. One of the true testaments of any strong community is the sacrifice members are willing to make for the collective improvement of all its members.
Despite everything Putnam bemoans about the deterioration of the small-town community, I like to think CrossFit Santa Cruz instills in its members some pretty important values that actually make communities stronger: commitment, sacrifice, determination, passion, and humility.