A reader recently reached out to me to ask if I had ever written anything about a community’s struggle to improve in the face of negativity. I had not, but this post is an attempt to correct my omission.
I understand and can relate to the struggle it takes to pursue improvement. It takes effort, fortitude, conviction, and determination. All attributes that take considerable effort to muster. It also takes perseverance, which by its very definition, is exhausting. It’s far easier to sit at home and do nothing. Or better yet, take to the keyboard and talk shit about the community and those working to try and improve it. Despite their popularity, there is little reward in such activities.
Yes, it is hard, but what of worth in this world isn’t? What accomplishments can we obtain that don’t require sustained effort? What of value is easy to acquire? This is what separates those who are successful and accomplished from those who are not, it’s the ability to do hard things and stick with them.
The only way to realize success in your effort to revitalize your community is a sustained effort over time, regardless if you are faced with opposition or not, the path is the same. Consider the parallels, to get in shape, it’s going to take tens of thousands of steps or reps over the course of months and years. To grow wealthy, it’s going to take daily decisions regarding spending and saving over the course of months and years. A shortcut to success is simply impossible because of the nature of the concept itself.
So, will people be opposed to efforts to improve your community? Yes, quite certainly, and that’s okay. Let’s understand those folks a bit better though so we can work through this. Most communities in this country have experienced decades of decline. The people that inhabit them have been beaten down to the point of exhaustion. They no longer believe in their town. They have no reason to think things can get better because, in their lifetime, things have never gotten better. They have, quite rationally, come to the conclusion that their community sucks and always will.
Here is the thing, it makes complete sense. They have every right to believe this, it’s a very logical conclusion. They look around and see that everything is in bad shape and they don’t like it. Well, why should they? They are down on their community for good reason and we should all understand. But what we also must understand is that not everyone has the ability to see the diamond in the rough. Not everyone is a community development-centric weirdo who sees things how they should be and not as they are.
This subset is upset with their community and they don’t know what to do, they aren’t sure how to change it, and so they resort to being negative because they must think there is some value in it. Well, there isn’t, but that’s their problem to deal with. Let’s stop wasting time being concerned with them, because honestly who gives a shit? They are writing their own story and dealing with their own issues. Let ‘em. Let them take their own journey, but don’t let them derail yours.
I was working in a community last month and they decided to forgo two separate projects because of the naysayers. I explained to these civic leaders that this is a strategy for defeat. Ceding ground to those who oppose progress is a victory for stagnation and a blow to progress. In showing them that people are listening to their negativity, they are only encouraged to speak louder in the future. Never stop making positive progress to appease those who can’t envision a future different from today. You are only providing them with proof that they were right all along.
Instead, move relentlessly towards progress. Stop thinking progress is subjective or that improvement is political. Cleaning up one’s surroundings is neither subjective nor political. It’s simply action. When something is not tended to or maintained, it moves from order to disorder. Disorder is bad and the human mind dislikes it a great deal. So maintaining and improving the physical infrastructure of the community does not need to be debated. Some people will oppose anything because they have low civic self-esteem, these people do not need to be catered to. Improve your community despite their opposition. Or what about this? Improve the community for them. They have acclimated to declining surroundings, so improve their surroundings for them.
There will always be those without vision, and that is fine for them, it need not be anyone else’s concern. Someone told every one of us at some time in our life that we could not do something. Someone scoffed at our conviction to improve ourselves and our lot. Would you go back and listen to them, would you turn back time and heed their words if you could? Would you decide not to get in shape or go back for your degree or run for office because someone didn’t believe in you?
Absolutely not. No one would ever make the choice to personally deprive themselves of growth and improvement to satisfy another. Your only choice is to move forward to prove to them that they are wrong.
Go forth. Move towards progress. Be relentless in your actions and have courage in your convictions. When you improve the conditions of your community, you improve the lives of everyone in it, they deserve it, whether or not they support it.