This was a great day! From housewives to superintendents of schools, from executive directors of agencies to small business owners – we came together to discuss what’s going on in our communities, our state, and our country. With passion and enthusiasm, we began the dialogue. It was civil, insightful, and more importantly we began to know and understand each other. Through all of this, we even found some common ground!
There’s no question that communities can be a troubled place and have many serious problems. How do people leave poverty? How do we help our young people find a good future? How do we make our communities safe and healthy? How do we develop our local economy and create new jobs? But, that is not the point. The question here is not about the nature of the struggles; it is about the nature of the cure.
So let me share some of the common ground that we found, along with some of the thinking behind it:
- A need for a new approach to addressing problems – and it begins with us (individually). To address any issue effectively we need to involve a larger part of the whole community.
- The real issue is not leadership – it is community! Effective community building is just like democracy in that it needs to be a participatory process! We can’t continue to abdicate our sense of responsibility and let others solve the problems of the world alone.
- “If you keep on doing what you are doing, you are going to keep on getting what you are getting!!!” We have allowed systems to dictate actions and grow to a size that is not manageable – and we have only ourselves to blame, because we didn’t stay involved. We need to take back some of this control and help transform our institutions and agencies.
- “All life is interrelated, and we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.” -Martin Luther King
As well intentioned as our elected officials are – they don’t fully understand this principle. They create policies and rules without fully understanding the consequences it will have on other organizations and people.
We all have been forced to deal with unintended consequences of not-thought-out legislation. Lawmakers thought they were doing something helpful to solve a problem that we had given them, and suddenly we were confronted with eight (8) new problems created by our initial solution.
- Viewing a community as a nearly endless list of problems and needs leads directly to fragmentation of efforts to provide solutions – too many departments, too many rules, with little or no communication and/or coordination between any of them. We have created silos of information.
- The key to social change is substitution – not demolition of institutions, but their transformation.
- We need to create a community where each sector – business, education, government, social services, health care – work together to create change.
- We need to be accountable. Despite the fact that it sells easily, it is an illusion to believe that retribution, incentives, legislation, new standards, and tough consequences will cause accountability. Accountability is the willingness to care for the well-being of the whole.
- We need to be committed. Commitment is the willingness to make a promise with no expectation of return
- We learn, adapt, and bring forth our worlds through the networks of conversation in which we participate – as we are doing today. This is the only way to develop trust and get to know each other to better work toward a healthier community. The challenge we confront concerns our faith in one another and in our ability to effect change together.
For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the people upon which this country relies.
This is the price and the promise of citizenship.
Flip Hassett is the Executive Director of United Way of Merced County