Public Has Chance To Shape Community’s Future

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By Reed Anfinson
Publisher, Swift County Monitor-News


Would you like to help shape the future of the Benson area? You will have the opportunity during a public meeting with author, economic development strategist and community therapist Doug Griffiths Friday, Nov. 16.

Griffiths, the co-author of 13 Ways to Kill Your Community, will be in Benson two full days next week. He is meeting with local business groups, community leaders of all ages, citizens on the street and you – if you care about this community.

He will be here Thursday and Friday, Nov. 15 and Nov. 16 with a community meeting planned for 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16, at the Benson Golf Club. All are welcome.

Griffiths wrote 13 Ways to Kill Your Community as a satirical take on traditional economic development and community building efforts. It was a concept that came to him as he drove through rural Canada on his third trip to a community to speak about economic development. His message wasn’t getting through. Then the idea came to life in his mind of how to approach community leaders and citizens from the exact opposite side of the challenge.

If you want to kill your community, just keep doing the same old things that lead to failure and inertia.

In 13 Ways to Kill Your Community, Griffiths and co-author Kelly Clemmer’s Chapter 7 is titled “Don’t Cooperate.”

“Almost everything takes cooperation to be successful. It doesn’t matter if it is your business, your marriage, or partnership, or even your sports team, cooperation is required,” they write.

Cooperation creates a synergy – energy to get things done that leads to accomplishing more than people or organizations can on their own. Not working together creates a waste of scarce resources, greatly extends the time it takes to accomplish your goals, or can cause you, your community, or your business to fail.

They saw three primary ways in which communities fail to cooperate. First, the people and organizations simply don’t work together even though they share a common vision for what is needed. It’s a passive resistance based in turf issues, lack of motivation, dislike for the people in the other group, and a host of other self-defeating reasons.

Their second example involves people with same goals but who have different ideas on how to get there. As a result, rather than working together some will work to undermine or frustrate the efforts of those in the other camp.

A third, insidious, form of not cooperating is becoming a “naysayer” – someone who constantly points out why things will never work or why they shouldn’t be pursued in the first place. Without overtly opposing it, they can kill a project by swaying public opinion against it and undermining its chances of success.

 Don’t Paint is the title of Chapter 6 in their book.

“If you want to ensure that your community fails then you have to make sure you don’t paint. Of course, painting isn’t the only factor included in this concept – it encompasses anything that may beautify your community such as sweeping, cleaning, planting flowers, mowing grass, pickup garbage...” they write.

Communities are judged by first impressions, Griffiths and Clemmer say. In many cases you only get one chance to attract a family to decide if yours in the community they want to live and work in. Another challenge for many communities to overcome is the inertia created by complacency.

 “It is important, if you are going to ensure the death of your community, that you lose focus on your goals and become complacent, or support those who are complacent in their decisions and leadership roles within your community.”

Complacency leads to inaction as the world passes a community by.

One challenge a community often deceives itself about is how welcoming it is.

“If I were to visit your community, attend a town hall meeting of average folks, and pose the question, ‘Is your community a welcoming place?,’ I have no doubt the answer would be a resounding ‘yes’ from the crowd. Unfortunately, that is likely a lie,” Griffiths writes in one of his 13 Ways columns.

 “It may be a deliberate lie you tell yourselves so you don’t feel shame or guilt, or it may be an accidental lie because you simply aren’t aware just how closed off your community really is to outsiders and newcomers, but regardless, it’s likely to be a lie.

“The first problem is that what most of us think of as being welcoming is just being friendly. There are a lot of friendly communities out there.” There is a difference between being friendly and being welcoming. Being friendly is giving someone directions with a smile; being welcoming is inviting new people in the community into your home.

“Being a welcoming community means deliberately going out of your way to make newcomers, outsiders, and immigrants feel like they are part of the community,” Griffiths writes.

Communities also have to ask themselves the right questions to move forward.

“The only way to find the right answers is to start by asking the right questions,” he writes in another column. “The right questions are difficult to ask though, because they require us to look deeper and more meaningfully into ourselves.

“That is why most of us start off with what we want the answer to be and then create a question that leads to that answer. That approach often makes us feel better, but it doesn’t make us any better.

“Most communities completely miss the most important question: Why? Why are the youth leaving? Why is the economy in decline? Why is crime on the rise? Until you know why, the solutions and the strategies won’t fix anything, because they will be exercises on paper rather than an antidote to the root cause of the problem.

“Starting with why’ is incredibly important for addressing the real issues and finding real success, but there are other questions that are equally important if you are going to really make your community better.

“It is important to ask, and engage in a public discussion, about your community’s identity. Who is your community? The truth always comes out with the right question.”

Getting the answers to those questions means involving everyone in a community. That is why it is important for citizens from all segments of the community to attend the public event from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16, at the Benson Golf Club.

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