As I reflect on 2016 (which all of a sudden seems like another lifetime ago) and the lessons it offered about how polarized and allegedly divided our country is, I’m reminded that almost everyone wants the same things. We all want to live healthy lives in thriving communities where there are opportunities for all of us to have good jobs, education, housing, fun, and a sense of connection without feeling unsafe or disrespected. It’s just our opinions on how we get there that differ.
Recently, my family and I traveled from our liberal-leaning college town and headed for our hometown, a beautiful, rural part of western North Carolina. It was the first time I’d been home since the election, and it gave me time to think about the recent blog post by my colleague, Joanne Lee. I considered my own bubble, echo chamber, social media filters, how I define “home,” and the people and information I seek out, gravitate toward, and am most comfortable associating with in social and professional settings. I realized then that the key word was comfortable.
The ability to choose comfort is a privilege. Some of us have the option to unfollow, change the channel, or just look the other way when injustices impact people or the planet “elsewhere.” Some of us don’t have that option because of the color of our skin, our gender, our age, where we live, or how we worship, just to name a few reasons. That should make all of us uncomfortable and want to find meaningful ways to respond.
The only way to make progress is to act—make a ripple, no matter the size, and listen to others who have pushed beyond their comfort zones. Those acts could include a simple phone call or visit to a policy maker to share your opinion, making a donation to an organization that advances your interests and values, volunteering at that organization, building new relationships in your community, or even running for office yourself! How often does success happen without first taking risks?
Active Living By Design (ALBD) has a history of “walking the talk,” and we know that some of the elements of the Community Action Model that we uphold and ask community leaders to embrace aren’t always easy to do in practice. But they are possible. We’re seeing communities across the country progress, partner, and prepare for sustainable change in ways that are sometimes uncomfortable. We are working with groups that are identifying and implementing healthy change strategies and creating (literal and physical) spaces for people to thrive. For example, in 2016:
In 2017, let’s see if each of us can move beyond our comfort zones, making ripples where we can no matter how big or small, as we work to make healthier places to live.