After utilizing artificial intelligence and Big Data and multiple algorithms, I concluded that 24 of the 50,000+ people in Decatur are not going to be content or happy or able to acknowledge any of the exciting things happening here. Their influence has been significant, and to a pretty shocking extent has driven the narrative about who we are, where things stand, and our future prospects. That matters, because an optimistic mindset is necessary to create the hope that yields the energy that leads to action which is necessary to achieve our goals. Mindset is a real thing. It has something in common with the wind – maybe you don’t see the thing itself, but you always see its effects.
The 24 and their narrative need to be addressed – but in a balanced way. And that starts with trying to stand in their shoes. It starts with compassion, not condescension. It starts with acknowledging that we don’t always understand what is going on with people.
So let’s try to start there as we discuss The 24. When you hear a person telling you how everything is bad and never going to improve, it’s tempting to want to reason with them. Or respond. Or stop listening. Again, though, we don’t know what’s going on in that person’s life. Maybe this person has a debilitating medical diagnosis. Maybe a friend or loved one has a chronic illness. Maybe the latest college tuition bill, or utility bill, is past due. Maybe they’re coming to terms with the loss of a dream that spurred them forward for years. Maybe their business closed. Maybe a relationship is falling apart. Maybe they’re just exhausted. Maybe they led the charge to improve this thing or that and fell short.
You never know what’s happening in the background
Thus the need to start conversations with The 24 with compassion – a standard I have not always met – because one of two things is likely going on during that conversation:
- They are right – it’s all doom and gloom, everything is ALL CAPS, and places like the latest city to lose its only large employer have struggles that don’t even compare to what we are facing.
- They are projecting what is happening in their lives onto the environment around them.
As I’m sure you can guess, my vote is # 2.
Even if you agree that The 24 should be treated with compassion and be heard, the question remains – what happens next? I am still operating under the assumption that if we’re communicating with one of The 24, reasoning with them, or pointing out the plight of millions of other people in our country and around the world, we are unlikely to accomplish anything. My strategy is therefore:
- Encourage Mindset Change: Is there anything at all, in the entire city, that you like? That makes you happy?
- Focus Their Energies: What are the top three most important challenges you think we need to overcome?
- Encourage and Challenge: What is one thing you are doing to address any of those challenges?
Why not encourage someone toward a more positive destination?
Those of us who do not consider ourselves to be part of The 24 need to look in the mirror, too. Why do we allow ourselves to become discouraged when three people say something is impossible? Why do we think that two anonymous statements in the comments section of an online article or Facebook post represent the entirety of public opinion or the beginning and end of discussion about an idea’s merit? Why do we see 24,000 people around us working to make things better but wonder “why are people so negative” when The 24 start their doom and gloom diatribes? Rain is wet. The 24 are The 24. We need to get over it, stop giving The 24 so much influence over our public discourse and attitudes, and get on with the work that needs to be done.
Look, it’s easier to say something will never happen or can’t be done than it is to persevere in the face of adversity and uncertainty. It’s easier to be a Keyboard Warrior than to engage in the real world struggle. Hard work is hard. That’s how things are, how they’ve always been. What’s changed is that any person can now bless us with an infinite stream of counterproductive, frequently inaccurate vitriol because it’s so easy to do. Again, though, we need to get over it and focus on encouraging those around us. The 24 have already made their choice. We are the ones who need to make a decision. And, as far as I’m concerned, that decision is to listen (within reason) to The 24, try to motivate them to direct their energies into productive labor, avoid giving their criticisms too much energy, encourage each other, and get back to work.
This isn’t ultimately about The 24
Quick caveat: I’m not saying that anyone who criticizes an idea or project is part of The 24. Constructive criticisms and legitimate concerns help us become stronger and should be welcomed as part of a dynamic, vibrant conversation about the future of our city. Such conversation, however, should be distinguished from one that refuses to acknowledge any bright spots when there are plenty, views the end as already upon us when we might actually be at the beginning, and offers nothing but personal attacks or baseless comments about the work done on behalf of our community.
Still, I close with the need for compassion as we navigate change at dizzying speed. While this is to some extent an oversimplification, in this country we enjoyed a brief interlude where the world had enough money to buy and invest in our economy but not compete against us in many meaningful respects. Where a college degree virtually guaranteed upwardly mobility for life. Where a solid, honorable forty-year career could be built by those willing to work even without a college degree or, in some cases, a high school diploma. Where technology, as a rule, created more jobs than it replaced. Where we housed much, if not the majority of the skilled workforce – meaning higher wages, benefits, Clark Griswold getting his Christmas bonus, and so forth. Now we see Robert DeNiro as an intern – albeit a very wise and cool one who adds a lot of value. I’m not saying everything was hunky-dory in the past or that everybody got a Christmas bonus – lest we forget the high interest rates, the savings and loan crisis, or the task of actually building a sustainable economy – but still our economy is undergoing significant if not fundamental transitions. We must innovate and earn everything. We are entitled to nothing.
Suffice it to say that things are complicated. I still believe that those willing to satisfy a demand in the market, work tirelessly, and take smart risks have amazing opportunities, but that does not diminish the dislocation and disorientation that many are feeling. And these changes force us to adapt. If you’re not a Government Town, a tech hub, or a city with a massive employer that is likely to stick around for a long time, you’re a city that has to be asking yourself what you need to do to be relevant and prosper in the global economy. It’s tough work, it involves significant risks, and it’s uncomfortable. I believe we can win. But still, compassion.
Amazing People of Decatur
Decatur has a lot of amazing people doing many amazing things. This new feature of DecaturNext will recognize our neighbors’ accomplishments from time to time. If you want to nominate someone, feel free to reach out at JohnJ@DecaturCorridorDevelopment.com or via the DecaturNext website.
Today’s Amazing Person is Shirley Hammond, owner of Perceptive Designs on Bank Street. The Alabama Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers recently recognized Shirley with “Designs of Distinction” in the following categories:
Silver Award: Residential Renovation
Silver Award: Residential Kitchen
Bronze Award: Residential Bath
Way to go Shirley! Her achievements represent another example of the outstanding work accomplished by so many people here.