With Liberty and Justice for All

One of the toughest moments of my career in public service happened on a normal night in a normal town in a place where I felt very comfortable. I picked up the phone and on the other end of the line was the school security chief letting me know that there had been a shooting at City Hall. Officials had gathered for a council meeting, and a member of the community entered the meeting and began taking lives. It was now my job to walk around the school to let each of our teachers know about the incident and to ensure their safety. The tragedy happened on parent-teacher conferences, so not only were teachers present, but community members were in the building. In an age of instant communication, there were only a few moments to get a clear, coherent story to those that I served. As the evening progressed, details of the death of members of the community emerged.

These moments can happen in any community in the country, a reality that we continue to learn. The ideas that comes with building a sustainable community, surrounding the environment, schools, business, government, public health, and religion provide me hope, a hope that if a community begins a phase of renewal that liberates its citizens that it can be different. Communities can be a place where the best parts of humanity are celebrated, but this requires a shift for communities.

People move into communities to take from that community. They come to take what the schools have to offer. They come to use the parks and the green spaces. They join the community to take from the public services that are available. They take from the joy of cheap housing. They take advantage of the businesses and restaurants in the town. They take.

Adam Grant, professor of organizational learning at Wharton, in his book, Give and Take, outlines the shift in growth and happiness that comes from being an individual, organization or community that moves from a mindset of taking to a mindset of giving. Research continues to show us that long-term happiness comes from having the opportunity to give on a regular basis.

What could this mean for communities around the country? What would it look like to have a giving mindset?   Is it possible that giving is the common thread for the elements of a sustainable community?

As a country, we are fantastic at giving in a crisis. There are stories that emerge following a crisis that show the natural giving tendencies that we have. From giving blood to providing shelter, water, and food to generous donations of time, talents, and treasures, we are naturally a people of giving. Unfortunately, this trait fights everyday with the taking mentality and consumerism of communities.

How can we make this shift? I propose that we start with identifying the invisible people and invisible problems in our community. I believe that many of these tragedies in the country that involve taking of lives could be eliminated by giving voice to those people and issues that remain invisible.

The concept of sustainability provides us a framework for beginning this process. Sustainability ask us to look at issues of justice surrounding three areas, social justice, economic justice, and environmental justice. In every community, there are people that are treated poorly, for some this is about race, for some this is class, and in others, it is about disability. Give attention to these issues. Don't allow these issues to fester.

Sustainability also asks us to look at the economic justice issues in our community. Poverty impacts us. No one is immune from the negative impacts of poverty. Whether you are thinking about your block, your neighborhood, your city or more, poverty is creeping into your daily life. Ignoring issues of economic justice will only magnify the problem and allow the economic impact of bringing change in these areas to grow geometrically. Give of yourself in this area. Don't allow anyone to be an invisible person in your community.

Finally, sustainability asks us to work through issues of environmental justice. The impact that each of us has on our planet is interconnected. We live in an ecosystem, and we each have a responsibility to serve our planet in a way that allows our children and those generations after us to give, serve, and live in the happiness of a sustainable community.

We are not immune from tragedy. The evenings of emotional distress surrounding the shootings at City Hall may happen again, but we should all be looking to minimize the opportunity for tragedies both big and small. Don't allow for invisible people and issues. Allow a lens of sustainability to grow, so that social, economic, and environmental justice issues are a part of your mission. Make the shift from the natural state of taking from a community to a new mindset that puts giving to your community in the forefront. Now is the time. Give for your growth, Give for our growth. Give for the growth of our community.