Us vs. Them is a myth. There is no them. 

Us vs. Them is a myth. There is no them. There is only us.

I’ve been saying that for a while. I think I first heard a version of it from Jon Swanson, who works at a small town church in Indiana. I even put it on my business card backs.

I like how it sums up the silliness of our tendency to fight in small towns. Who are we fighting? Ourselves. We have met the enemy and he is us, like Pogo said.

At SMTulsa Conference last year, Carlos Moreno talked about building cooperation in the metro Tulsa area. He showed a slide that illustrated “Me,” “You” and “Us.” I noticed he left out “them.” He also showed a slide that said “‘They’ will never fix this. There is no they.”

Ever seen a problem in your town escalate into a hateful angry battle, maybe played out on Facebook? Of course you have. Moreno did, too. But he took action. He reached out to “them” and sat down together for coffee. He learned that despite all their differences of opinion, they were both passionate about the neighborhood. They both cared about people and the community. Together, Moreno and “them” found that they had some ideas and parts of others ideas that they both share, so they started work together on those ideas. He turned an all-out Facebook hate battle into collaboration.

This, I think, is the essence of small town fights and collaborations. You and your “opponents” have something in common, and you’ll have to work live and work together in this town for a long time. There is only us.

A problem solver is one who knows how to reach out and ask for help, Moreno said.

It’s hard. I know. But you have to be the one to reach out.

What do you do with empty buildings? 
Two and a half years ago, Deb Brown visited Webster City, Iowa, and found 14 empty buildings in a 4 block radius – downtown. Now 12 of them are filled. Deb and I are putting together a toolkit to show you how to conduct your own Tour of Empty Buildings and start filling up your downtown, too. You can sign up to be notified when registration opens at

Keep shaping the future of your community,