Do you know what the most commonly asked question is at any of my talks? It’s always about dealing with the negative people, the people who say you can’t, the roadblocks. Jack Schultz calls them the CAVE people: the Citizens Against Virtually Everything.
I find that encouraging and discouraging all in one. It’s encouraging because people want to do something better in their town. It’s discouraging because they are being stopped.
So what can you do? From years of experience, I offer these two answers:
1. You aren’t alone. Realize that every town has CAVE people and that no matter how bad yours are, some towns are worse than yours.
2. Go around them. If they are stopping you from doing exactly what you want to do, then go wider around them. Find a way to do part of what you want to do.
But I’m thinking I’ll start giving a third answer.
3. Change the trajectory of your community.
That’s a tall order, isn’t it? I mean, it’s not your fault that people are like that, and how are you supposed to change them anyway?
Well, you’re not. But you can do something to change the tone, and ultimately the trajectory.
1. Follow the classic advice on How to Build Community.
There is this classic poster that’s been around for decades that shows a pretty urban neighborhood and includes a whole long list of ways to build community:
“Turn off your TV… Leave your house…. Play together…. Pick up litter… Dance in the street… Bake extra and share.”
Sounds like a small town, doesn’t it? Your town probably does some of these things. Most of this is stuff all small towns used to do very well, but most of us really don’t do that much anymore. If you want to change the tone of your community, forget the CAVE people for today and get outside to do some community building.
The list was written by the Syracuse Cultural Workers. (You can still buy the poster here.)
2. Be a Citizen Placemaker.
Placemaking, for my purpose today, is about how you use public spaces: streets, sidewalks, parks, the town square, and so on. The Project for Public Spaces says, “It may take years to turn a grassy lot into a great square, but you can start today by simply mowing the lawn and inviting your neighbors out for a picnic.”
Read more about citizen placemaking here.
I want to talk more about Placemaking later. But for right now, step outside. Organize a picnic. Make May Day baskets for your neighbors’ doors. Find a way to do something to push your community on a better trajectory.