Allowing ourselves to succumb to the social, political and economic malaise that infects our country is the single greatest limiting factor in building healthier communities.
Let’s be honest. Most news organizations, special interest groups and political figures devote an inordinate amount of energy wallowing in the long litany of seemingly insoluble problems and as a result a profound sense of defeatism and powerlessness has been created. If you watch the 24-hour news channels for more than a few minutes, you’re getting a mind-numbing dose of pessimism and cynicism. The FCC ought to require broadcast outlets to provide written warnings about the hazard to your mental health.
The good news is that in North Central Washington, we’ve discovered an antidote for the malaise.
Remarkably, the cure is within each one of us, we discovered Wednesday at the Community Success Summit sponsored by the Initiative for Rural Innovation and Stewardship, where a few dozen of us spent the day learning about collaborative projects that are making a difference.
We discovered that the secret of getting out of the cycle of hopelessness can be achieved by connecting with like-minded people to do something meaningful and profound for our communities.
It is that simple. For those who are motivated by personal gain, this is probably not welcome news because you have to care about doing something for others to make it happen.
Here are a few tidbits that I found particularly inspiring at the summit. In the Methow Valley, a public development authority has been established to take the old forest service complex of buildings and turn it into a resource for the community, a place to convene and deliver programs for arts and culture, agriculture, green technology and innovation.
What caught my attention was when Maggie Coon, who heads the effort, talked to us about a unique aspect of the Methow Valley experience. She points out that the people in the community can disagree vehemently over an issue but not take it personally. In other words, they tend to find ways to collaborate on other issues.
It’s not unheard of for opponents to carpool to public meetings. That ethic of being able to disagree in one area and collaborate in others is a lesson we all can learn from. Healthy communities find ways to disagree but continue to work together.
Another theme that ran through the conversations was the commitment of individuals to their communities. I was struck by the comments of Bainbridge Manufacturing’s Keith Soderstrom. As he described what the community of Waterville meant to his family, there were tears in his eyes and his voice cracked. There’s genuine passion about community success.
Rich Watson of the North Central Washington Business Loan Fund expressed that same idea when he talked about how the loans they make differ from traditional lending institutions. Metrics are nice and all that, he pointed out, but what his non-profit board values more is the impact their decisions can make on communities.
The loans they have made to entrepreneurs in places like Bridgeport have created a sense of hope, confidence and success. And given the national malaise, such confidence is in short supply.
These kinds of efforts are happening throughout the region. If we were to grow that sense of possibility in our region, we could transform this region in ways that would be stunning.
It is becoming ever more apparent that the best role this newspaper can take is to chronicle these stories and support like-minded efforts to the best of our ability in order to remind all of us what can be accomplished when willing minds come together to make important community efforts happen.
I couldn’t imagine a more important goal for The World.
Rufus Woods is editor and publisher of The Wenatchee World. Reach him at 665-1162 or firstname.lastname@example.org.