The response to DecaturNext has been extremely encouraging and is a reflection of an existing energy and desire to recognize Decatur’s positive momentum and overcome our challenges. People have sent emails offering to help, commented and subscribed to the blog without being asked, and sent helpful ideas and suggestions. The number of people who have subscribed to the blog since launch late last week has more than quadrupled expectations.
But there is one comment, sent anonymously, that I keep considering. After referencing several challenges, the author writes, “Stop drinking the 1950’s koolade and realize that there are HUGE issues here. The bridge is pretty and all but it is NOT the REAL Grand City on a Charming Scale or whatever lame tag like you are using now.”
I want to address that comment today, but let’s establish some ground rules first. The person who wrote this comment should not be characterized as “anti-Decatur.” This person may have experienced situations where people talk only about the good things here and refuse to acknowledge our challenges. Maybe the person is just hopeless that certain challenges can be overcome. I can’t say for sure.
Regardless, the comment could represent a mindset that needs to be addressed. DecaturNext will be utilized to build support for key ideas and help people learn about many positive things that are happening. It will also, however, be a place to explore and resolve our challenges constructively. That leads me to my first point – these goals are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to build support for ideas, celebrate all the positive things happening here, and seek to overcome our challenges in the same place, at the same time. The fact that most people in Decatur want to pursue all those goals does not mean we are oblivious to the difficulties we face. It does mean that we support a fair and reasonable representation of what it’s like to live in Decatur. It means we are more than the sum of our challenges.
Secondly, it’s not really notable that we have challenges – every single place does. Decatur is a city of human beings. We’re imperfect. We, like everyone else, have our challenges. I say again, though, that the total picture of life here is more than the sum of our challenges.
Thirdly, dwelling only on our challenges threatens the energy and motivation communities need to overcome them. When we are not reminded of all the positive things happening here, when the challenges we confront are not sufficiently balanced by the opportunities embracing us, despair is inevitable. Despair takes away our motivation to move forward, which robs us of the energy we need to do the work necessary to overcome our challenges and leverage our opportunities.
Fourthly, while discouragement is understandable and even inevitable at times, a “nothing but despair” mindset is simply not justified. While other cities are seeing their sole major employer leave, Decatur is yet again ranked in the top 10 cities nationally in metro areas our size for our ability to attract business. We’ve been named a top retirement community. We have launched an institution of higher ed, the Alabama Center for the Arts, which could become our own SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) over time. The Cook family is building a Museum that can become a regional if not national destination. The Princess has a new director who is getting great reviews and devoting every waking hour to maximizing its potential. Lofts are coming as Downtown marches toward becoming the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) Hub.
Fifthly, focusing only on our challenges to the exclusion of everything else does not accomplish anything. Nothing constructive happens when we bemoan a challenge and allow ourselves to stop there. After we’ve identified a challenge, let’s get to work on dealing with it. If you’re interested, for example, in the hiring of our new Police Chief, The Decatur Daily ran a profile of the candidates. Public interviews will happen. Decide which candidate you think is best, and tell your elected leaders why. Tell your friends why. That is a fruitful use of time.
I’m not going to delete comments on DecaturNext that speak to our challenges without offering solutions – this is America, after all – but I’m also not going to give much attention to such comments going forward. DecaturNext will speak to the challenges that exist – our heads are not in the sand – but we will focus on seeking solutions. We will also celebrate the victories, momentum, and positive developments Decatur is experiencing on multiple fronts. Those times will remind us of why we are working hard to build up our community. They will remind us of what has already been accomplished so far.
To reiterate, I have no issue with the person who made the comment referenced at the beginning of this post and do hope to meet him/her one day. That person could be working very hard to help Decatur and could have been speaking out of momentary frustration. I get it – the truth is life can be really hard for all of us sometimes, and there is no way around it. Either way, though, we are more than the sum of our challenges. Going forward I hope to utilize this blog as a positive force to celebrate our wins and contribute to the hard work of overcoming our challenges. That’s the mindset I’m choosing. What about you?