The past few weeks have reminded me of a quote by Roy Bennett, who said, “You never change your life until you step out of your comfort zone; change begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
My guess is that each of us has been — or will shortly be — at the end of our comfort zones.
Over the past weeks, we have touched on many elements to improve our communities. Those ranged from tourism, revitalization efforts, working together, shopping local, saving our media, what is local DNA and more. One thing we haven’t really discussed is critical and effective communication. With events surrounding the pandemic, we have seen strong examples of great communication and not-so-great communication. But for the sake of this column, we will focus on our community and the task of revitalization and having a local mindset.
I believe most want what is best for their communitise, but they differ on what they perceive as “best." Make no mistake, improving quality of life by returning the heart and soul of a community to its rightful downtown location will be a hard-fought battle. This is a task on which you will need to unleash the best of all the widespread communication vehicles possible.
A letter was shared with me recently, heavy on criticism of the efforts of many hardworking people attempting to return the heart and soul to their community by revitalizing its downtown. As most letters of this nature, it was long on generalities and short on specifics; it was hard to figure out where the writer was coming from, but discontent was apparent. You will never satisfy everyone, but a solid communication plan will educate those influencers in the community to the facts, figures and logic behind your efforts.
Despite a decadeslong trend of decay and a slow death march into oblivion, not everyone is going to be behind efforts to grow and revitalize downtowns. Change is difficult. Even faced with conclusive facts and trends, altering a failing but comfortable course is difficult for many. A great communication effort can bring most around to the realities facing the community. It might even bring some of the previous naysayers into your camp.
A study was done in the military showing what is true of most segments of society. Two simple questions were asked: “What do you like most about the military, and what do you dislike the most about the military?" The answer to both questions was "change." Most of us inherently know we must change, but few are willing to actually make change. Case in point, we keep electing the same political figures every election while their approval ratings continue to plummet into the teens. It is safe to say that change brings out the best and the worst in people — those making needed changes are heroes; those naysayers holding on and resisting much-needed change become the roadblocks to progress.
Change agents need not fear, however. In fact, they can take heart, to use an old quote, "Those saying it can't be done are interrupted by others actually doing it." Attempts at sustainable progress always run into opposition regardless of the endeavor. Plow ahead, follow the facts, understand the trends and ignore naysayers and do what is right. Eventually, most logical people will figure it out.
What truly makes us unique in our communities is our diverse backgrounds, our different experiences, different upbringings and information sources. I often think that if we all had access to the same information, experiences and backgrounds, we would more often than not come up with the same direction and solutions. However, because we all come from diverse backgrounds, that makes our options greater. On the downside, it can deeply divide us. This is true in politics and religion and can even be so in economic development as well.
Knowing what we know about change and the resistance it creates, one effective tool we must use is better communication. Overcommunicate if need be. Tell your story in the newspaper, on social media, through traditional and nontraditional media outlets. Develop consistent and regular news releases using all the tools at your disposal. Leave no stone unturned in this portion of the plan. Those who can communicate their mission are in a much better position to succeed in this task of creating change and revitalizing their downtown.
John Newby is author of the “Building Main Street, Not Wall Street” column dedicated to helping communities combine synergies with local media companies allowing them to not just survive but to thrive. His email is john@360MediaAlliance.net.