The Buzz w/ Sarah O’Brien, Community Whisperer
Book I cannot put down:
Daring Greatly (Yes I am out of order)
What I can’t stop playing over and over again:
See Inspiring Reason #20
What I am working on:
A slide deck for an upcoming presentation:
Embracing Uncertainty, Action & Understanding Amidst the Chaos
I can’t lie. (Fine, Yes I can, I hate it, but I’m totally lying.) I didn’t realize that The Buzz rotation was an annual commitment. I naively thought my Q1 duty was over and done. Thankfully, ELGL keeps us organized. On Monday, when I got the friendly reminder email for buzzes due this week, I figured out I was definitely not done with my commitment, I was definitely wrong…which happens daily. As I looked at my somewhat intimidating calendar for the week and scanned recent weekly buzzes, I was overcome with that feeling of “meh” (that’s Texan for ‘I committed to what? And why didn’t I plan better? Do I really?”). I thought to myself, “Where in the world will I find inspiration for this week’s buzz?” My colleagues and #localgov insiders have done a tremendous job of churning out fantastic content; what more do y’all need from me? So as I always do on every project I work on, I decided to refer back to history and start at the beginning of the conversation. Low and behold there it was, my profound and eerily visionary morning buzz “inspiration.” “Meh” quickly turned to “It’s a Meh-racle”! The January 3rd, 2020 Q1 Weekly Buzz, “20 Reasons to be Inspired in 2020” was like a note to my current pandemic induced #covidbrain. My past and my future self – both living in totally different worlds, yet the reasons to be inspired remain essentially the same.
Of course, approximately 80 days into a worldwide pandemic causing the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression, some Top 20 reasons had to “pivot” just a bit to reflect the strangest normal I’ve ever experienced. However, amidst a virus that on January 3rd was barely a bleep on my radar, I was compelled to leave several top 20 reasons totally untouched. I won’t waste much more of your time with a lengthy foreword. We all spend enough time surfing the internet these days. Based entirely off the January 3, 2020 Buzz which I penned a few years ago…I mean short months ago, this buzz has a pandemic twist and was designed to inspire and honor my #localgov warriors, courageous leaders, community champions, and resilient humans. Most importantly, you are individual residents and people experiencing this pandemic alongside the citizens you are serving. No one has done this before, so we need all the inspiration and laughter we can get. Without further ado, Top 20 Reasons To Be Inspired
in 2020 During Covid-19, a pivotal remix.
NUMBER 1: The world is full of unreasonable people.
“Unreasonable” roots back to the 14th century BC and stems from the meaning of “excessive, going beyond what is sensible or realistic.” If COVID-19 has shown us anything, its that our reality didn’t make sense. We need more leadership from unreasonable people if we are to truly change our course. We need more excessive actions that defy sensibility and alter our realities. We need more unreasonable people in local government like Rick Cole, who said:
“…this is a time when we actually need an expanded and more dynamic role for local government. For years, we’ve seen ourselves as the provider of a set of legacy services: police, fire, libraries, parks, land use planning etc. We forgot that all those services were actually invented to respond to the challenge of industrializing America a century ago. We continue to provide them without adequately re-examining their fit for the world we live in today. If we were starting from scratch today, we would design a government that looked more like the I-Phone than the rotary phone.”
NUMBER 2: Imagination isn’t just for kids
It is for everyone and needed for everything. A community can’t thrive in a society where citizens are so stuck in an old reality that they can’t imagine doing things differently to benefit the common good. And when government leaders forget to imagine a different future or refuse to imagine doing things any other way, we certainly can’t build community. A recent City, Nation, Place article puts it perfectly:
“The communities that are in the best position to respond effectively appear to be those with imagination. Imaginative communities are groups of people and businesses – cities, regions and countries – that share a sense of identity, history and belonging. Imaginative communities have a clear understanding of what it is that brings the community together; what the sense of comradeship and purpose is. Imaginative communities reinforce and strengthen this identity while featuring it in original, creative, innovative, captivating and inspiring initiatives that show the world what the community is about in order to build a distinctive, relevant, authentic, consistent and memorable reputation.”
NUMBER 3: Fauci Channels Fred Rogers and gives America the truthful kindness we need
Besides an oddly strange resemblance when testifying in Washington DC, Dr. Fauci and Fred Rogers are both the kindhearted, reassuring public figures that children and adults, on the left and right, need growing up and during a crisis. Both national public figures didn’t intend to be in the spotlight. Rogers and Fauci are unexpected and unintended national celebrities who are well-loved and rarely spoken ill of. They stay the course, remain true to their calling and understand their purpose. Fred was an ordinary man who devoted his life to recognizing and responding to the emotional needs of children. Fauci is a scientist and a physician who remains committed to being apolitical and non-ideological to best serve human health. One turns to books and stories to solve challenges and change lives, and one uses research and data to discover solutions and save lives. I love them both.
NUMBER 4: Relationships Matter
I cannot help but reflect on how significant relationships are, especially in local government. Relationships touch every aspect of public service and I believe that public servants serve because we value relationships and the people who form them. We were quick to notice that “social distancing” was not the term that our relationally dependent communities needed. We needed physical distancing, we needed social interaction in a different way than what we valued pre-COVID-19. And so relationships matter, more so during a pandemic. We have reconnected with friends, colleagues, vendors, stakeholders, small businesses, agencies, and families in ways we would never have imagined a few months ago. We sacrificed for each other. We challenged each other. We served those in need. We provided to those less fortunate. We checked in our neighbors. We picked up groceries for those that couldn’t.
We care about each other. We care about people. Relationships are why we do what we do. Relationships matter.
NUMBER 5: The new 3 E’s of Transportation should be universally applied to City Building.
Ethics, Equity, and Empathy are the values that need to be at the forefront of local government and the outreach that is done at City Hall’s across the country. Ethical, equitable, and empathetic leaders will guide humankind and our communities as we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic and human damage it will continue to cause. As we rebuild local economies, rethink supply and demand, and transform our healthcare and housing systems ethics, equity and empathy are no longer optional, they must take center stage. We do not have any other choice but to demand and do differently. As government leaders, we can’t preach what we don’t passionately practice. For who wants to be governed by anything less than such principles and values? I know I demand nothing less.
NUMBER 6: Parties on our porch are back!
They may be the only viable option at the moment but celebrating anything on our balconies, streets, decks, or patios has taught us to appreciate our places and the people in them. No one will forget the Italian serenades, the more personal moments you’ve experienced with your loved ones, or the celebratory signs of compassion that communities from coast to coast showered in our news feeds.
We love seeing local gov getting involved in neighborhood parties and inspirational sidewalk messages! Keep it up!
NUMBER 7: Old Coot’s Tweet and Go Zoom
Who would have thought that government agencies and our nonprofit sectors could go digital, virtual and remote as quickly as it took the country to run out of toilet paper? I have never been more proud of the swift and nimble transition out of the stone ages into the 21st century of local governments and history museums! From the tiny town of Round Top, Texas Pop 91, Town Council meeting via teleconference to my hometown of Smithville, Texas Pop 3,000, who not only began live-streaming council meetings but has been regularly providing virtual updates from City Hall, there are thousands upon thousands of digital recordings to be proud of. Recordings that a few months ago would have never been considered. I hope the government and our institutions don’t ever revert back to the way things used to be.
PS I also hope we don’t go back to a place where empty toilet paper aisles are the norm.
And while pride is a great feeling, humor simply cannot be beaten during a pandemic.
Hat Tip for School Board Officials zooming on tractors in Kansas.
Hat Tip to Seth in marketing at the National Cowboy Museum for handing over twitter to hashtag Tim, aka security.
NUMBER 8: The only certainty is uncertainty, and that I am certain of.
No one is going where they thought they were going to go, and in fact, none of us know where we should be going, but that’s okay.
You see as humans we make plans. And plans typically have a specific beginning and an end. They are strategic and comprehensive with strategies and action steps to guide us along the way. Plans are neat, prescribed, and measurable— just like the planners who love them so. You figure out what to do and then we allocate resources and we go and do it. Right?
Well, as many of you know we are in a pandemic, and most of your plans have gone out the window, flown back in and stuck their tongue out at you, and laughed. I know, it makes us feel better, safer, more in control, more comfortable to have a plan. But plans don’t necessarily contain the path. I believe that planning is an important part of our journey unlike most of the plans we make.
I have always been comfortable with the uncertainty of daily life. Even when I was little and especially in this field, our professions. I’ve always thought asked why? Why do we sit here and waste all of this time putting together this plan that I know will be antiquated as soon as it’s adopted? Why don’t we just go out and do it? And yes that comfort level with uncertainty keeps me in a little bit of trouble, but it also takes me places I never imagined I’d go.
Plans and certainty are comfortable, and comfort doesn’t lead us out of fear, it doesn’t give us courage, or help us remain true to our purpose. Comfort certainly doesn’t accompany us when we need to make tough decisions, does it? So why are we always focused on being comfortable? Human nature I suppose.
I think its time to get uncomfortable, and I don’t mean because we are navigating our way through a national health and economic crisis. We need to dig into our purpose of service, what it means to serve. We must forget about us or my organization. Its time to embrace the fear and discomfort. We must use our values to help us with what will be a painful process. We need to accept that our systems fail, and we will continue to fail. We should leverage that acceptance into bold courage, the courage we need to move the needle. We need to get uncomfortable and stay the course on our journey to the unknown.
NUMBER 9: Porch Sitting is a proven community building method
So much so that we know have an entire week dedicated to porch #placemaking. dedicated to it. Porch placemaking week is bringing placemakers from across the globe together to take action and build community, from a safe distance, through porch or stoop activations. Mark your calendars for May 30th to June 5th and visit www.porchplacemakingweek.com for more details.
NUMBER 10: EveryMan is Essential
Burning Man’s success as a sustainable pop-up city in the middle of the desert can be connected to the fact that everyone in Black Rock City has skin in the game, everyone knows and understands their purpose. People care more because they have something to care about. Everyone in Black Rock City is essential- everyone cares and everyone is cared for. I understand why state and local governments have had differing opinions on what essential is or isn’t. I also know that what essential business means to each of us is different. I do believe, I hope that we can unite In the fact that every human and human right is essential. Neither our rights, our lives, or our economies should be sacrificed for one another. We should not collapse in crisis and be left to choose between economics and human lives. We still need to go to Burning Man and understand how to develop cities where everyone is essential. We need to build economies that don’t essentially collapse when a two-week vacation is mandated. So essentially I am publically stating that leading up to 2020 I am going to work towards being an essential Black Rock City citizen. I am going to Burning Man, and it is an eligible and expense and an essential city building experience.
Words matter, greatly. “Essential:” absolutely necessary; indispensable. I still believe that we are all essential. I wish our places fostered the same sentiments.
NUMBER 11: We can change the world, but first we need to change the way we build our communities.
I have been known to join alongside many colleagues to preach about place and I regularly motivate communities to change mindsets. I visited with a colleague and friend on his platform, Revitalize, or Die. recently. I believe that his term is also a stark reality that all of our communities are facing, COVID, or not. It’s past time for local leaders and residents to stop trying to fix what’s broken and start completely over. Tearing down the structural foundations that build communities and designing new functions that are focused on inward will result in places and people full of pride. By enhancing our communities first (as opposed to trying to procure economic, cultural, and human capital from the outside) everyone wins. We’ve been given a choice to revitalize, to give a new life to the way we work for place, or to keep doing what we’ve been doing. An opportunity for the sectors and industries that I love dearly, to put the community’s best interest at heart, not their own, or simply die.
NUMBER 12: Being neighborly is cool again
Picking up groceries, checking in on our neighbors, sharing toilet paper. Neighbors matter. We are all reaching out to our neighbors throughout this crisis and will continue to do so, it’s been unbelievable to watch this movement happen in my community and across my news feeds. I hope it doesn’t falter, the new social behaviors that we have adopted during this time of physical distancing. It would be such a shame to lose our connectivity to each other when we gain the ability to bring our physical connections back.
NUMBER 13: We needed the time to stop and smell the roses.
And the cities that we serve, the families that we serve, and our collective human spirit needed us to stop and smell the roses…..and of course, for the love of everything #localgov we did a lot of road construction.
Traffic, Streets, Parking, Neighborhoods, Development….all of it. We know there is a better way to do it.
NUMBER 14: Little Biz is Big Biz and we need to define what small biz means in our value system
It’s clear American’s love their small businesses, and it’s clear we love our Main Streets. Cities and citizens have shown their support and small business have shown us their ingenuity, and I have been impressed. It makes me smile and fills me with pride. The stories, the transformations, the hard work, the creativity, the resourcefulness, the imagination, the resiliency. Yet I am also saddened by the thoughts of so many who haven’t been able to make it this far, and the thoughts of who will close their doors next.
What I find unforgivable is our federal leader’s definition of small businesses and their understanding of Main Street. Countless stories and struggles of the big guys and the little guys and the PPP, some heartwarming, but overwhelmingly most of the stories I have heard on the ground are heartbreaking.
And then there’s the Federal Reserve’s “Main Street Lending Program” funded by the CARES Act which will buy back $600 million dollars from small businesses. The program is designed for “SMALL BUSINESSES with UNDER 10,000 employees.” I have never heard, seen, spoken to, or walked into a small business with under 10k employees. Have you? Funding designed to help those not intentionally covered with the first few rounds of rounding isn’t what gets me. What does get to me, is incorrect, out of touch, and downright offensive use of terms like Main Street and Small Busines to describe billion-dollar companies that have more employees that my town has citizens.
NUMBER 15: Your city needs delivery as much as Texans need our neighborhood pub back
What can I say? Texan, born and raised.
NUMBER 16: We should KonMari things that don’t bring our cities joy.
Does that fax machine bring you joy? Does that CAVE person bring you joy? Does Applebees bring your community joy?
Then why do we keep allowing them in our closets?
Do you feel joy zooming in your pajama pants? Does it spark joy?
Perhaps casual Friday’s needs to be redefined before returning to City Hall.
If it isn’t making our towns, our employees, our residents or ourselves happy,, then why don’t we throw it out and make room for something radically different, like all those face masks you need to store?
NUMBER 17: Collaboration is King
Collaboration is king. No one entity, no one person, no one hospital, no one neighborhood can stop the spread of coronavirus. From the makers and the tech industry to governments and healthcare systems, collaborations of all shapes and sizes have taken center stage. Covid-19 has unequivocally proven that we all need each other, we are working together even when we must be apart.
NUMBER 18: Collective Impact saves lives.
In my opinion, this has been the greatest display of collective action and impact that this world has ever seen, that we have ever been witness to. We know that we are in the midst of battling an invisible enemy, an enemy that crosses all dividing lines. COVID-19 is an equal opportunity killer, this coronavirus doesn’t care about you any more than it cares about me. It requires us to think collectively, not just because of our own self-interests, but in spite of them, it demands we put the common good before our own.
NUMBER 19: Our front-line workers are hard at work on our behalf
We are used to being on the front lines. From hurricanes to fires to local political turmoil, local government leaders understand that we work holidays and show up first during a crisis. Granted we may not always get a robust training program before we face the firing squad, but we know what we signed up for. Our nurses, grocery store employees, delivery drivers, plumbers, and countless others keep showing up for us, and to that, I say thank you from the bottom of my heart and promise that I will continue to show up for communities and charge into peril to serve and protect.
NUMBER 20: Masks aren’t offensive
Going to leave you now at the place that I started, what I am listening to on repeat this week:
Sarah E. O’Brien