Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage. – Anais Nin

The more courageous I am, the richer my life is. I am saying “yes” to new opportunities to engage, learn and share, aiming for what is possible with each one. Missed opportunities in life to say/try/do something are often stuck in our assumptions, perceptions, doubts and fears. What if all of “that” is one big untruth? Social Artist, fellow Creating the Future Fellow, and beautiful soul Deborah Loesch-Griffin revisits our usual response. Instead of digging in our heels, what if we consider leaning forward and dipping our toes in the pool of possibility? Then, rest back on our heels in reflection about how that new experience, approach, or thought felt. Wherever you are reading this right now, I ask you to try that and feel what those words mean.

It takes courage. It takes trust. It takes getting to know each other better. It takes time, but oh what an incredibly powerful investment of time. Everything is built on relationships, yet so often no time is invested in BEing together first.

Milenko Matanovic and the team at The Pomegranate Center defines itself as an internationally recognized non-profit devoted to developing neighborhood gathering places and to community-generated design and development. With the advent of the automobile, suburban sprawl and other societal factors, the town square and what it makes possible is gone from many communities. What is possible when “unintentional encounters” are a regular part of community members’ lives?

“I work with communities of place … just people who happen to live together in the same neighborhood, same city, same town, who come from different cultures, ideologies, religions, tastes and values. In my philosophy, those differences are the greatest untapped asset we have in our society. In what conditions can those differences lead to something productive?” —Milenko Matanovic

They take the time to engage the community in defining what they want. This is where courage comes into play. Matanovic’s TEDX Talk, “Courage to Collaborate,” speaks to the courage it takes to engage and collaborate with others to shape a shared intent or vision, instead of trying to convert others to agree with your own fixed idea. It takes courage to acknowledge that we carry assumptions and perceptions that may not be true. It takes courage to put them to the side, and step into a space to consider what might be possible.

Matanovic shares that courageous community work is analogous to the assembly of a bike wheel. The wheel can only move forward, running true and straight without wobbling, if the focused work is not on the singular spokes. Designers take the wheel; that shared vision to create the plan for the community hub space. Then the community is reengaged to build the physical space together. The effort moves swiftly while keeping community members engaged on the entire journey.

A few weeks ago, I hosted a chamber of commerce’s panel discussion, part of their annual “nonprofit expo” and luncheon. The panel included three community members representing business, philanthropy, and community benefit organizations. I invested time up front getting to know the chamber president, hearing what excites her about the community, the chamber’s role on behalf of the community, and defining what success would look and feel like at this event. Next, I met with the panel in advance, asking them similar questions and determining what we would aim for together. During the panel discussion, none of the expected questions were asked. The usual questions label and silo, and are grounded in assumptions of scarcity and competition. They focus on the bike spokes instead of the whole wheel.

When we change the questions we ask, we change everything.  When we change the questions we ask, we create the space to engage and build on our collective strengths. Of the 300 community members in the room, one was the editor of the local paper. Later that week, he shared his reflections and ask more questions of the community in his opinion piece. For that I am grateful, as his opinion piece will spark additional conversations around what is possible together. We all want the same thing – to be a part of healthy, thriving and resilient communities. Table your assumptions and perceptions, summon your courage and reach out to a community member today. Start the conversation with what excites each of you about your community.

It is with gratitude to the chamber president, that I will be continuing the journey with this community next month. She has the courage to collaborate. She has the courage to step into the space of what can be. And, yes, I have the courage to keep rolling my true wheel forward onto new and ever-changing terrain. Co-creating the future in and with community is my joyful responsibility. The learning, growing and sharing that is occurring is the life worth living.


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