An Opportunity to Change the Public Conversation

Recent news has certainly rocked our world. We don’t know where it is headed. We don’t know how it will affect our future. We don’t know when it will end. We simply know that this is not normal. Yet, even right now, I see at least one clear possibility for channeling this into positive energy. Yes, this crisis is an opportunity. Right now we have an opportunity to change the public conversation, we have a rare opportunity to come together in our communities in a unified voice, to show our true human strengths, and seize this a unique opportunity for progressive change toward our shared goals.

My business focuses on sustainable business redevelopment in a rural region at the New Jersey bayshore. This field is typically divisive and partisan. I have regrettably become notorious as a divisive force for progressive change over several decades. I’ve made plenty of conservative enemies. My community environmental activism even triggered death threats that snowballed into an attempted political assassination fourteen years ago. Recovery from those injuries cost me many years in recovery. The risks of political fighting within the community are all too real for me. My family and I certainly have good cause to fear the impact of community politics and social activism. We know the dangers of offensive messaging in the public realm.

Yet despite this bitter experience, six years after the attack we were forced to learn an entirely new community lesson. Superstorm Sandy wiped out my home and business in late 2012. In that time of community crisis, we all set down our weapons and came together for our own survival. Partisan bickering suddenly disappeared. We worked side by side to pull ourselves out of the mud and gradually rebuild out community. Our communities around Money Island New Jersey eventually rebuilt as best we could from within with virtually no support from government, even in the face of obvious FEMA fraud and maligned government forces working against us.

Over the past few days, we’ve seen signs that all of our communities will live through a repeat of these same social patterns. Even our normally impotent elected officials in Washington DC proved this weekend that people can come together for the common good.

What am I doing in this crisis?

First of all, I am talking to people. I am breaking away from the usual social media and electronic communications. I plan a rough outline of bold conversations and then pick up the phone. I am NOT talking about the news. In fact you may notice that this post doesn’t mention the “v” word.

Second, I am reminding myself that this is not a time to be timid. Marianne Williamson says it best: ““Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Finally, I am taking care of myself: checking in with family, advisers and community support circles, going for daily walks in the woods, and yes, psychologically preparing myself for the business and personal impact of the cash crunch and longer term recession ahead. Those who dramatically change their strategies early will be least affected in the end.

Someday this crisis will be over. But we have good reason to believe that positive measures adapted in an emergency become part of the mainstream of our lives going forward afterwards.

Rahm Emanuel is credited for saying “You never let a serious crisis go to waste”. The line gained notoriety. But over time we have learned that the ‘crisis management approach’ to community action has proven to be the most effective method we have available to unify our diverse communities. Those who can see this opportunity hold the keys to moving our communities forward. I urge each person reading this to recognize the opportunity, to take a lead role, and be a positive force in leadership through the crisis.


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