Monday, September 30, 2013

Community is the Answer

Community – a deep sense of community – is what will sustain us in an ever-increasingly complex and stressful future. That is what leadership author and inspirationalist Meg Wheatley says, and I agree with her.

As chaos and its consequences manifest themselves (think our federal government gridlock, economic uncertainties, environmental issues, and global unrest), the larger context of our daily lives grows more unsettling. Simultaneously, everyday life in our country seems to grow a little more unpredictable on a regular basis with technological advances and accelerating social changes. The issues and problems can seem overwhelming, but Wheatley also posits that “whatever is the problem, community is the answer.” The values of collaboration and community lead to win/win solutions if people are willing to deal with a little uncertainty and trust in principles of community.

MVCC is an anchor institution in this region – influential companies and other entities have come and gone, but this College has persevered. We have the word “community” in our name and we are inextricably tied to the Mohawk Valley. Our vision statement speaks to our commitment to meet the rapidly changing needs of our community. For us to pursue and carry out that commitment to our community, we must model the way for the region with the approach that this area needs to move away from a win/lose orientation that only goes to protect turf or the status quo. For this region to truly prosper, notions of either/or and yes/no need to be replaced with yes/AND – true to the values of collaboration and community. Resources are indeed scarce, but they will be even scarcer if we work within a competitive, isolated, self-serving mindset.

We’re starting to see this more cooperative approach as governmental agencies are increasingly dipping their collective toes in the merger/collaboration waters; the local agribusiness sector is also modeling the yes/AND mindset as they find ways to support one another and complement related lines of business; and increasingly the business and education sectors are rapidly coming together to find new ways of collaboration and partnership to better prepare the workforce for accelerating, exciting, and even daunting changes on the horizon.

A yes/AND mindset doesn’t always mean that everyone always gets exactly what they want when all is finished. However, through a commitment to collaboration – with a little give and take and a willingness to shift in order to accommodate the needs of others in some manner – this larger context allows for a deeper sense of community that moves its members from simply surviving to a far more desired state of thriving.

Richard Florida’s recent presentation to the community at the Stanley Theater tied all these ideas together as he spoke about what distinguishes cities from one another and attracts what he calls the creative class. His framework said communities need to focus on the three Ts: technology, talent, and tolerance. He closed his remarks by saying that not only does this area have the foundations of these three concepts, we also have a very distinct history that is part of a continuing narrative for this community. 

He said that in the past, many communities used to be defined by large employers, and when those employers would leave, the sense of community would have to be reborn. We have certainly seen our share of large employers leave, but the essence of this community has remained – through events like the Boilermaker and the Heart Run/Walk; through organizations like MVCC, other colleges, and countless service organizations that have existed for generations; and local assets like the incredible homegrown restaurants, the Stanley Theater, the Utica Auditorium, exquisite public parks, to name just a few! As Florida reminded us, up-and-coming cities can’t recreate our sense of shared history that helps to draw a community ever-closer – and in the end, amidst all the chaos in our world, isn’t a sense of belonging what we all long for as humans?

If you have any comments or questions, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.