Middletown: A Study in Modern American Culture, investigated changes that had occurred in Muncie, a small Indiana city of thirty thousand, between 1890 and 1925. The results of a follow-up study, Middletown in Transition in Cultural Conflicts, were published during the Great Depression in 1937, a time not unlike our own Great Recession. The Lynds used the methods of cultural anthropology (interviews, surveys, documents, statistics) and investigated six community themes that had been identified by W. H. R. Rivers in his classic work, Social Organization: getting a living, making a home, training the young, using leisure in various forms of play, engaging in religious practices, engaging in community activities. Middletown became the muse for numerous studies of community change and development that have been undertaken since that time, including the project on which this book is based.
Grass Valley and Nevada City
The great beauty of Nevada County and its rich history and strong sense of community have made Grass Valley and the county seat, Nevada City, special places in which to live, work, and play since the earliest days of the gold rush in the 1850s. Miners settled in Grass Valley and mine managers lived in nearby Nevada City—setting the stage for much distrust, then heated competition, and now growing collaboration between the two communities. Mining was followed by logging, and that was followed in the 1950s by the founding of two premier technology firms. Charley Litton, founder of Litton Industries and vacuum tube manufacturing pioneer, moved his engineering labs from San Francisco to Grass Valley. Several years later his friend, Donald Hare, created a solid state amplifier for the flourishing motion picture industry that resulted in the founding of the Grass Valley Group.
Geographically only three miles apart, the two interdependent communities are becoming extraordinary “arts destinations of distinction.” And they have made their individual marks in other ways as well. Earlier, in Grass Valley, Lyman Gilmore is said to have made the first powered airplane flight in 1902—a year before the Wright brothers. And Wallace Stegner set his 1972 Pulitzer-Prize-winning Angle of Repose there, while down the road in Nevada City the made-for-television movie Christmas Card, starring Ed Asner, was filmed and released in 2006. This small county of 99,000 also features the presence of 693 registered non-profit organizations and, several years ago, engaged the leadership in Grass Valley and Nevada City of two young and vigorous women mayors. All of this rich and innovative history, plus the growing influx of retirees and others from across the country, has made Grass Valley (population 13,000) and Nevada City (population 3,000) fascinating and inviting places in which to live and serve. And like Middletown earlier, these “Twin Towns” are ideal places to investigate the dynamics of community development and the active civic roles that sage leaders play in advancing it.
This powerful idea embraces three elements: natural capital, (all of the things that nature provides for a community), financial and built capital (the structures, manufactured goods, information resources, and credit and debt in a community), and human and social capital (the people that make-up a community). Human and social capital reside at the heart of this project and involve the way people work together to engage their community. Set in psychological terms, human capital is the recognition and full use of human potential that exists in a community. Set in sociological terms, social capital is the building of social cohesion and personal investment in community.
The subject of “civic engagement” goes back to the ancient Greeks and was later described by Alexis de Tocqueville as “habits of the heart”—the nurturing of democratic principles and values he found during his visit in the 1830s that were manifest in everyday lives of Americans. Since those early days of the republic, voluntary organizations and their leaders have become a fundamental part of American society. And so has the rising concept of “civic engagement.” Among the current meanings are “making a difference in the civic lives of our communities by employing the knowledge, skills, values, and motivations to make a difference.” The end game of civic engagement is to promote the quality of community life through both political and nonpolitical means and processes. Enter John Gardner, the late great American educator, author, and leader. In 1988 he advocated for the civic engagement of senior citizens by observing that “they are a great reservoir of talent” and should be called upon to “give back” to the nation and their communities. Many others have since amplified on Gardner’s theme, including author Robert D. Putnam (Bowling Alone) and organizations like Civic Ventures, which sponsors the Encore Careers and Experience Corps programs.
An enormous amount of research has connected late-life development with civic engagement, but the literature has not adequately explored the nature and function of sage leadership in strengthening community life. This deficiency has been partly remedied by the codification of compelling ideas about sagacity in the still influential book written more than a decade ago (1995) by Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Ronald Miller, From Age-ing to Sage-ing: A Profound New Vision of Growing Old. Among the book’s many virtues is that it closely links civic engagement with sage-ing, a new model of late-life development that involves people becoming “spiritually radiant, physically vital, and socially responsible elders of the tribe.” The book also takes the courageous step of disavowing sage-ing as being but a one-way relationship between the old and the young by emphasizing the idea of reciprocity. The central premise is that the old and the young can bring immense value to one another, and this is key to understanding the role that sage leaders of all ages can play in the civic development of community life.
This book, then, is about the coming together of five loosely-connected influences to undertake an exploratory community-wide study of sage leadership and civic engagement in Grass Valley and Nevada City, California—and which we periodically refer to throughout as “Twin Towns.” Beginning in the fall of 2009 and concluding in the summer of 2011, the project was conducted entirely by volunteer leaders and without benefit of financial support. A detailed description of the project’s vision, purposes, and methodology is presented in Appendix A.
Overview of the Contents
Section One sets the stage for understanding the context for sage leadership and civic engagement. In Chapter One we review the convergence of four powerful trends that are reflected in the Sage Leadership Project: changes in demography at all levels of American society, dominant characteristics of the nation’s four generational age groups, a significant shift in the senior population from aging to sage-ing, and the documented social and personal benefits that are derived from civic engagement. Chapter Two takes a snapshot of the histories of the Sage 100 and then proceeds to Chapter Three, which reports the powerful peak life experiences that have shaped who and what sage leaders are today.Download Article 1K Club