If we want to get through change and not just be victims of circumstance, we are going to have to rise to the challenge. The natural humility of people who live in our region is one of the obstacles we face in the challenges of our declining economy, aging demographic and risk-averse decision-making culture.
I went to see Billy Bragg play in Halifax a few years ago. It was a great show. I have been watching Billy Brag perform in all kinds of venues since I was about 14 years old. He gets the audience all riled up with his rants and brings some good tunes into the mix. His history of punk music combined with traditional folk makes him a unique mix of modern revolutionary and lineage holder. At one point he asked the audience what they wanted, a Bob Dylan song or a Carpenters song. The lights went up in the auditorium and people put their hands up to vote.
The Carpenters won and Billy says:
"Predictable but okay, let's do it!"
He started into the song and when he reached the chorus he stopped playing to allow the audience to sing along. There was not a peep! Only silence, some uncomfortable shuffling and meagre clapping. What he said next has always stuck with me. It was something along the lines of:
"Oh so you think democracy is just about voting? Voting is not enough to get what you want. We all have to join in to make things happen!"
Then he stopped playing the Carpenters and sang the Bob Dylan song all the way through!
I have gone back to that experience a lot in the last couple of weeks. It captures something cultural for me. What is it going to take to get us mobilized? How bad does it need to be for us to rise up, take the bull by the horns and start getting change done en masse? What is a vision of the future that we would all want to strive for and be proud of?
I don't mean vision that we have to get to - but something to motivate us to move from here. We don't need a milestone that we measure ourselves against to find out if we did a good or bad job. We need something that invigorates our citizens, educators, local government and business leaders into collective action. An aspiration that sets collective direction.
For me, this is population growth. I can see a future of schools full of kids, a culturally-diverse community and brimming economy driven by local people's actions. That is what keeps me motivated day to day. I can see it happening within the next 10 years. I can see the seeds of it already underway right now in our communities.
What if we swapped audacity for humility?
What would we do if we were not afraid?
Our kids should be coming out of their schools expecting good jobs. In fact, those jobs already exist. Nova Scotia Careers Services cannot fill the jobs on the South Shore. Our schools and colleges need to be raising aspirations as much as building skills. I believe it is time for all of us to be bold and unapologetic in our aspirations for ourselves and our region.
Ambition is never bad as long as it does not turn into arrogance and oblivious self interest. Let's celebrate this place and the people with ambition leading within it. Cynicism, jealousy and a mentality of scarcity can easily make people feel the need to 'pull down' those who do succeed. This motivates those who are successful to downplay their success and hide behind their humility, at the exact time that we need them to be talking about their success in an effort to inspire others into action. We live in a time where my win no longer means your loss.
If someone is making a million bucks around here, this should be cause for celebration and admiration - more power to them! The more critical we are of them, the less likely they are to invest back in the community.
If someone is daring enough to start a business, start a band, leave their job or take a risk, we all need to gather around and support them. The only way we can change this region is if we do it together. Bravery increases within the bounds of a supportive community.
A community that supports and enables people to take risks and be bold in their endeavours will inevitably attract bold and courageous people, which is exactly what we need.
My daughter was doing a heritage project on the big house in Mahone Bay that she called the "old Hennigar House." As part of this, she got to interview Ralph Hennigar. She asked him if any secret meetings had taken place in the house. He gave a wry smile and then told us a story of eight people meeting in the house and making a decision together to change things in Mahone Bay. At the time, the town was falling down and in terrible condition. This group stepped up to lead in the local council, ran community organizations and launched their own businesses - but were united in their target of regenerating the town.
Hearing his story, I realized the Mahone Bay that I take for granted as a relative newcomer was forged by another earlier determined group of citizens, many also from away, who saw reality clearly and stepped up to do something about it. This is the heritage of this place. These are the shoulders that we stand on.
Dare to take a step and raise your gaze. Be unapologetically proud of our awesome South Shore. The opposite of despair is not hope, it is action. Let's go, people.
Tim Merry of Blockhouse is a change leader who works locally and internationally to support change in communities, organizations and society. He is a co-founder of the Hub South Shore and founded the Split Rock Learning Centre, a youth drop-in centre in Yarmouth. This column appears frequently in the LighthouseNOW Progress-Bulletin.