Thursday, June 19, 2014

There is One Thing I Dislike about Downtown

So after 20 months into owning and operating the Main Street Cafe, there is one thing I don't like about downtown Kokomo: the factions.

"This group doesn't like that group." 
"This guy doesn't like that guy." 
"She was mean to me so I don't like her."

Right now some of you are saying to yourself, "Dear, dear Morgan. You are so naive. This is how communities are. This is how life is."

If you believe that, you're part of the problem.

If you've resigned yourself to that reality, you're contributing to that paradigm. I'm not writing this with the direct intent of cheesing people off; I'm writing this because I want our city to live up to it's potential. And part of living up to a potential involves putting down childish or immature ways.

Sandra and I are friends of people like Scott Pitcher, Greg Goodnight, and Paul Wyman. (Slow down: this isn't a piece defending or elevating these men--stay with me. I hate articles that are so vague you really can't follow along. So I use these guys here because they have thick skin and you'll better be able to follow along. And just because I mentioned those men, please don't think that this is about them. This is about a broader issue involving more people than I even know.)

And just to be clear, we are good friends with people who do not like these guys. As Sandra says of herself, "I'm Switzerland." ;-) These guys are local lightning rods: people tend to love 'em or hate 'em. And again, people love or hate way more people in our downtown community than just these guys.

When I hear the banter of, "He doesn't like me," or, "She treated me poorly." I go right back to an elementary school playground. Why? Because that's the level of this kind of behavior.

"Sally doesn't like me so I'm NOT talking to her and her friends; I'm just talking to my friends. (Crossed arms into pout.)"

We think because we're grownups and wear suits and business dresses that these conversations with our side about so-n-so in the ______ department is mature and normal. It's not. It's the kind of behavior we scold our children for if we observe it in them. We coach our kids:

"Billy, seek first to understand."
"Don't be as bad as the other guy."
"Take the high road."
"Why don't you talk to him about it."

Here's the thing: I'm not writing this because we have a little discord, a little difference of opinion between (for example) city and county, republicans and democrats. We've wrongly taken the lead of national figures who openly do not like other national figures. And where it used to be that we didn't like their policy or agenda, now we don't like them. And that's wrong.

And why does this matter? It matters because the fabric of a community is not policy. The fabric of a community isn't the side that gets its way the most. The fabric of a community isn't new buildings. The fabric of a community is relationship.

So I write this because when I see us unknowingly tear at the fabric of our community via the kinds of conversations we'd chastise our children for, I want to call us to something higher, something better, something more emblematic of our potential as a community.

What we don't realize is this petty personal factionalism that we've created, becomes readily apparent to people who are new to our community; they quickly sniff it out. And it's not attractive.

And the truth is, how we choose to get along today will be part of our legacy to young people who will someday be Kokomo's most influential people. They will do as we do.

This can change easily--one interaction at a time:

  • Stop talking negatively about specific people behind their backs. You are a person of influence. People follow your lead. Lead well in how you talk about others.

  • Walk away when other people start talking negatively about someone. Or if you're bold enough, ask them to stop in a polite humble way.

  • If you know you're on the outs with someone (regardless of how or why) ask for a meeting. It can start this simply, "I don't want it to be the way it's been..." Or, "I'm sorry." Or, "I don't understand why...can you help me understand?" Don't be concerned if they'll reciprocate; you do the right thing and see what happens.

  • If you're a person of faith try this: pray for the person you don't like. It's really hard to pray for someone and hate them. Trust me, I know. Been there, prayed that ;-)

  • Find something to appreciate in someone you don't like. I've yet to meet a person who has no redeeming qualities--the question is, are we willing to look for them.

Here's another nugget to chew on. Let's say you have a deep dislike for someone in our community. The truth is it just rusts your soul and furrows your brow. The recipient of your dislike sleeps fine.

We don't have to be everyone's best friend. But the fabric of our community is stitched together through relationships. And the holes in the fabric of our community are ripped by discord, animosity, and misunderstanding.

As I land this post, know that I've written it for you. Not for them. You cannot control them. You can only control you. Don't share this with "someone who really needs to read this" until you first do a reflective self-exam.

A community reaches its potential when you and I do everything we can to bring our best to each and every relational interaction. You and I are the fabric of this community. Change isn't a thing; it's a person. It's you and me, everyday.