We rarely (if ever) get the chance to remove ourselves from the day-to-day routine of our work to stop and reflect on why exactly we do what we do. I got that chance last week being afforded the opportunity to participate as a scholar at the Aspen Ideas Festival.
Community Builders is trying to build a more sustainable future for communities across the American West by tackling really complicated issues that rarely see quick progress: housing unaffordability, inequitable economies, high resource consumption, and climate change. These issues are overwhelming and are perpetuated by deep rooted systems that can feel impossible to penetrate.
If we spend too much time contemplating the complexities of these problems and dwelling on all the divisive ways to think about them, it’s really easy to get stuck. Perhaps even worse, because these issues can seem so far removed from many of our day-to-day lives, it can be difficult to make the tangible, human connection with them that is so essential to making finding solutions a priority.
The Ideas Festival is focused around conversation about all of these complex issues and how we can work towards finding solutions for them. It was remarkable to see experts in their fields, often in complete disagreement on how to tackle a specific issue, but agreeing fundamentally that something has to be done.
At one of the first sessions I attended, a panelist asked a very unifying question: what do we want to be true for our kids? If we can at least begin conversations from a place of agreement that we want good futures for our children, we have a greater chance of maintaining civility as we work toward solutions together.
Since the Festival, I’ve been thinking about that question a lot—What do I want to be true for my son?
Whether he decides to be a CEO, an artist, a mechanic, a teacher, a flight attendant, or a barista—I want him to be able to afford a clean, safe place to live that isn’t 90 minutes from where he works. No matter his job, I want him to earn a living wage. I want him to be able to eat healthy food and drink clean water. I want him to be able to breathe clean air. I want him to be able to experience the wonder of wide and wild open spaces and the joy of being immersed in an active and engaged community.
What needs to change to create this future for my kid? For your kid? For your friends’ kids? For the kids of people you don’t know?
At a session on expanding economic opportunity, David Brooks quipped “you can’t only clean the part of the pool you’re swimming in.” I take this to mean that we can’t lift up an individual person without lifting up the whole community. If we want to see the future we want for our kids, we have to think about these issues at the community level.
I know this connection may seem like an obvious one, but I believe we need to be reminded of it, and often. It can be tempting to throw our hands up when we disagree about societal challenges and accept things as they are, or burrow down and focus on our singular family or immediate social network. Instead, we must lean into the values that unite us and work to make that desired future a reality for every kid. We simply can’t keep doing things the way we’ve been doing them and expect better outcomes.
Community Builders is committed to helping communities identify those shared values and work through tough issues together. I can’t think of anything more urgent or meaningful that I would rather be doing. Because even though I know “what” I’m doing with Community Builders matters, I’m grateful to have reconnected with the “why” part of that equation.