Wednesday, February 22, 2012

How Do You ‘Travel’ Through Town?

Which is most true regarding efforts to strengthen our community? a.) Great work is happening. b.) Bad work is happening. c.) Nothing’s happening.

I have a theory. It’s by no means scientific and frankly rather whimsical. Yet, I believe it helps explain why we sometimes have a hard time understanding what others perceive as ‘truth’ about work going on in our community. It’s called the Hometown Traveler theory and goes like this:

As we ‘travel’ the community, going about our daily lives, we do it from one of five symbolic viewpoints. Each holds its own truth and sometimes more than one can be right.

1. Airline Travelers. This ‘10,000 feet’ view of the community offers the broadest perspective. You get the big picture of how the all parts and pieces fit together. The problem is from way up there, you can’t see much detail. So emerging projects, activities and other work that is (or isn’t) making a difference may not be easily noticed.

2. Subway Travelers. Moving in this way may be necessary but also somewhat limiting. Time is mostly spent apart from and uninvolved in community action. You’re randomly surfacing in this neighborhood and that one, catching brief glimpses of what’s going on; then going back ‘underground.’ The result can be a jigsaw puzzle with lots of missing pieces; one moment, the community looks attractive and prosperous, the next it feels like doom and gloom.

3. Cruise Ship Travelers. You see more parts of the community since you visit lots of neighborhoods. To be efficient, you participate in short, to-the-point stops (power lunches, site visits, orchestrated meetings, etc.). Here’s the rub: your time spent in each place is so brief, these ‘excursions’ can lull you into believing you ‘understand’ situations when you really only have snapshots.

4. On-Foot Travelers. Since it’s a slower means of getting around, quality time can be spent in a particular place. That creates expertise as to what’s going on. But it’s a double-edge sword: the time you spend up close and personal in one neighborhood keeps you from learning what’s happening elsewhere. This limited scope can lead to incomplete conclusions about may be happening just around the corner.

5. Flying Saucer Travelers. These Hometown Travelers are looking at things from outer space, which is also where their ideas often originate. And way out there, where the air is thin, things become distorted really quickly. So it can be hard to have a grip on what is referred to on Earth as reality.

(Note: omitted is the sixth category, Time Travelers, who spend most of their time living in the past or visioning a future so far flung that it often resembles the Flying Saucer aspect of the theory.)

Kidding aside, each of us hold jobs, roles and responsibilities that cause us to look at the community through a particular lens. Volunteers, educators, elected officials, administrators, service providers, philanthropic funders, factory workers, business executives – the list of who we are is rich in its diversity. And through them all, common, unifying threads exist. Try and see the community from other people’s perspective. Don’t let job titles cloud opportunities for collaboration. Be sensitive to another person’s possible state of mind and open yours to the notion that sometimes it may only be our way of looking at something that keeps us from seeing and understanding that, in truth, we share mutual points of view.

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