Whenever things take a turn for the worse frustrations mount and our anxiety barometers start to rise. That’s when the old fight or flight reflexes start to kick in pumping us full of adreneline ready to pounce on something but with problems as big as the global economy there’s really nowhere to run and nothing to pound on. I suppose the Sound Off column in the newspaper provides some community pounding opportunities but reading those feels like rubber-necking at an accident — the shock value may be entertaining but I’m not sure it’s actually helping people. It’s usually not long before the call for more leadership emerges; someone who can fix our problems for us. There’s certainly merit to leadership but you have to be careful what you ask for when you’re relying on someone else to fix your problems. That’s why I’m drawn to the concept of communityship.
Admittedly people love great leaders, and we certainly need them, but I worry that obsessing over leaders flying solo can be disempowering. By focusing on a single person and what he or she can do we run the risk of losing the sense of community in the mix. I’ve never been a big fan of the mythic western hero that rides into town on the white horse to save the day. I prefer the less glamorous Amish barn raising where everybody lends a hand to get the job done.
Maybe we just need to divvy-up the big solo hero work into managable sized bites. Maybe all we really need is ordinary, everyday leaders. People who put their pants on one leg at a time but still find ways to contribute to progress every day. Maybe it’s in shared leadership that we not only solve problems by working with one another but we also develop that rather elusive sense of community that seems like a relic of days gone by.
If you carry this proposition through to some sort of logical conclusion I guess I’d have to say that we indeed need more leadership but it looks less like the people with an entourage and more like you and me. That’s the servant leader concept; it’s stewardship and communityship.
To me the whole communityship question started to echo in my head as I sat through numerous Council and citizen meetings listening to ways to compel people to shovel their sidewalks after the snow stopped falling. It’s true, for whatever reason more and more property owners and their tenants are leaving their sidewalks unattended after it snows which means that their sidewalks are impassable, which in turn pushes walkers into the street where they race against automobile traffic. 175 pounds versus 2,000 pounds is never a good thing. Something has to be done, but what exactly?
There tend to be two camps on the what to do issue: Camp one says send out the cops and start writing tickets, issuing fines, and force those deadbeat shovelers into compliance using the threat of punishment as a deterrent.
The other camp says good luck with that forcing thing. Don’t waste time and money chasing the deadbeats — instead spend the money on actually getting the sidewalk cleared which is the whole point anyways. Either hire a contractor, or part time City workers, or even take some City workers out of the plow trucks and put them on sidewalk duty. They passionately suggest that sidewalks deserve equal treatment as streets — walkers of the world unite!
Both options take money and people power, but there are numerous variations for how to bill the work back to the deadbeat shoveler or add it to the list of services that the City performs using tax dollars.
The discouraging part of all this is not the lack of interest or the lack of ideas, it’s that we’re having the conversation in the first place. How did the concept of being a good neighbor fall so far off the radar screen that we’re left trying to legislate or mandate common courtesy and pitching in to do your part?
Honestly, if it was just a matter of people needing a couple of extra days to dig out their sidewalks this wouldn’t even be an issue. The problem is increasing numbers of homeowners don’t ever get a shovel out. The strategy seems to be to let Mother Nature eventually melt it all off and in the meantime keep a low profile and stay out of site.
And yes, there are special cases of people with handicaps and the elderly that have legitimate issues when it comes to shoveling but whatever happened to lending a helping hand? Instead, it seems like people try to use these exceptions as the rule and suggest that shoveling sidewalks is untenable. Come on, seriously?
I didn’t start this litany to pick a side because the City is here to serve and we’re happy to add sidewalk clearing or sidewalk policing to our duty list but let’s keep it real; it’s going to cost all of us something to do that and I can’t help but wonder if a little civic duty could save a lot of money that neither the City nor the taxpayers have enough of these days.
In my book sweat equity beats raising taxes every time.