Inspiring Community Organizer

18 Jun

I subscribe to a few podcasts, and one of my favorite is The Progressive Magazine Radio Podcast. I am really inspired by the last interview with Linda Stout (you can stream it online if you don’t have iTunes here.)

What I find so inspiring is her commitment to building community visions around compassion and joy. She says that the visions centered on joy are much more sustainable than those built on anger, frustration and differences. After my experience working on the Atlanta BeltLine public meetings, I can’t agree more. Those meetings that corroded into vitriol, and those meetings that allowed the public to focus on the negative were the least productive meetings. Linda Stout’s ability to continue focusing on the positive elements and the hopes of her community is incredible. She must have a deep stock of patience and love.

I understand that anger and frustration are useful emotions that propel us into action. But if they are just spewed out with no actionable direction, they simply overwhelm the listeners into falsely believing that the problems are too big to deal with. Let me reiterate- no problem is too big to deal with. Every little victory is a success that should be celebrated- and I love that Linda Stout uses little victories as ways to build and connect communities.

Now she focuses most of her efforts on social equality, peace, and the redistribution of wealth from the military industrial complex back to the communities for education and other community services. Those are big issues- but in her recent book, Collective Visioning, she gives practical tips on how to break big issues down into manageable bites. During the interview, she mentions three categories of work- heart work, soul work and physical work. I would love to read her book to find out more.

This particular interview really touched me (obviously since I’m posting about it.) I love her unpretentious attitude and positive spirit. I’ve been thinking about going back to work, and one of my fears is being swallowed up by the negative atmosphere so prevalent in the planning field. Sarcastic jokes and low expectations are the normal responses to the Sysiphean task of community visioning. But I can’t deal with these responses- I’m much too empathetic. If I’m feeling defeated, then I just give up. But if I could somehow draw on my deep need to live in a positive world, if I could somehow stay honestly upbeat and positive, I think I could maybe make it.

But how does one turn a blind eye to the negative forces and stay focused on the positive? How do you do it in your life? What are some small moments in your day where you’ve heard someone say something negative (like “this client is so stupid”, “this computer system is designed by computer geeks and not the people who actually use it”, or, “this office is run by a bunch of lawyers making us jump through hoops just to get our work done”) and you decided to ignore it, or focus on something positive (“I can help this client understand the process better”, “I can ask for help to fix my computer problem”, or “I know we have to protect our company’s liability, so I’m going to figure out a way to easily comply with the lawyers’ requirements”). I think it takes a LOT of work to focus on the positive. And in our busy hectic lives, sometimes we just don’t have the energy. I understand- I’ve been there.

So share with me what you do to stay positive. Comeon- if you’ve made it this far through this post, go ahead and leave a comment. Sharing our positive-feeding tools will help others learn a new technique we all so desperately need.




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