Has our community gone to hell in a handbasket? The Market Street consultants from Atlanta think so. They confirmed what we already knew: We can’t retain our college graduates; we’re sliding further into poverty; even with our massive medical infrastructure, we still have “poor health outcomes,” and look at our crime rate. Our sheriff’s deputies lock them up with unbelievable skill and speed, but our antiquated bonding law has them back out on the streets in days to commit crimes again.
Are you depressed? Or apathetic? The consultants also found “a statistically remarkable lack of citizen attachment to this community.” What does that mean? We don’t care? No, it means we’re not “engaged.”
In the business world, “engaged employees” are a No. 1 priority. If I’m not engaged in my company, I’m just putting in time. If I’m not engaged, I’m not listening to our customers, I’m not tracking our sales, I’m not helping my co-workers. But if I am engaged, I’m positive and pumped every day. I don’t waste time on negative feelings and gloomy predictions. I take problems one at a time, dive down to the root cause and fix them. I don’t wait around for management to do everything. “This is MY company.” That’s what engagement sounds like.
I’ve consulted with companies that were in worse shape than this community, but they had engaged employees, and they pulled it out. Can we grab our community and pull it out?
The consultants said we have a “remarkable lack” of these engaged citizens. That may be true, but isn’t it also true that those who are engaged are also truly remarkable? I’m thinking of the “Service Above Self” Rotary clubs. I’m thinking of the hundreds of nonprofits working every day to make this community better. And how about our growth pattern? According to Georgia’s Office of Planning and Budget, Macon’s going to grow by 70,000 people in just 10 more years. That won’t happen without “engaged citizens” making our community that much more attractive than other competitive communities. How are we going to do that?
Remember the old Confucius statements of wisdom? One of them was: “It is better to light a single candle than to sit and curse the darkness.” I will never forget Carolyn Crayton in the late 1970s. Carolyn lit her candle. It’s now called the Cherry Blossom Festival, one of the top 100 events in North America. It has grown from a three-day festival with 30 events to a monthlong celebration featuring hundreds of events that continue to entertain and thrill people of all ages and backgrounds and countries. Carolyn became engaged to this community, and her engagement became prolific and prophetic.
Do we have any more “Carolyns”? Of course we do. It may not look like a whole lot of people to the Atlanta consultants, but believe me, those we have are young and energetic and intelligent. And they’re lighting candles all over Middle Georgia, from Macon to Forsyth to Gray to Warner Robins, and they’re addressing the root causes of our problems of teen pregnancy, single-parent homes, poor education, ghetto living, gangs and crime. Will they solve them all? Of course not. Not completely. But each candle that is lighted, each resident who’s engaged, each root cause that is solved will bring us that much closer.
The other alternative, of course, is to “sit and curse the darkness.”
Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corp. and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is digitallydrc.com.