A Few Good Lincolnites

October 25, 2006 at 12:30pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Melissa Lee’s piece in this morning’s Journal Star on local business leaders struggling to find a solution to brain drain in Lincoln caught my eye. As I read the article, I kept picturing a room full of flustered 40-pluses stumbling and bumbling as they tried to unlock the secrets to connecting with young minds. Such a scene would make great sitcom fodder.

I see a few problems with current efforts to get young people active in the community. First, many of Lincoln’s active community groups are perceived as insular, closed-off, old boys (and girls) networks. The fairness of that perception varies widely by group, but as I so often tell people, perception is reality. Membership in many groups seems to be based more on who knows whom than anything else. Some people call that networking; others call it isolationism.

The next problem is that efforts to engage young people are very frequently tied to business and entrepreneurship. That has two effects: it blocks young people who aren’t interested in business; and it almost invariably leaves the impression that money is a prerequisite to involvement in the community. One seems to have to already have money, or have the goal of making lots of it. Engagement efforts ought to promote community entrepreneurship, rather than leaning so heavily on business entrepreneurship.

Last, as a result of the first two problems, engagement efforts miss a tremendous number of bright and motivated young people. A common perception is that you have to be part of the L Magazine crowd to play in Lincoln. What about the young teachers, preachers, mechanics, and (non-wealthy) stay-at-home parents? What about—if you’ll pardon the momentary hubris—people like me, not to mention people like many of you regular Lincolnite readers? Granted, in my case a good chunk of the blame lies with me. I am, and always have been, an extroverted introvert. I hesitate to involve myself in new social situations, but once I’m in, I tend to become a leader. That hesitation has kept me from going out and pursuing opportunities I probably should have pursued. But what gets me is that despite for years knowing and working with several members of various local leadership groups, all of whom are familiar with my passion for Lincoln, not one has ever asked me to join, or even to attend an event. Shouldn’t somebody, after all these years of running Lincolnite, have said, “Hey, here’s a guy who loves Lincoln. I’m going to drop him an e-mail and see if he wants to join our team”?

That’s not to say, by the way, that Lincoln’s community groups are doing a bad job. On the contrary, many local organizations have done excellent things for the community. I want to emphasize that. But if they want to improve—and they seem to—then I would suggest they step outside their comfort zones a bit and look around. A whole bunch of Lincolnites are sitting quietly in the classroom, while the boisterous kids get all the attention. Will the teacher recognize that silence doesn’t equal disinterest and call on those who may have an answer the other students overlooked?

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The Comments

Swid October 25, 2006 at 2:20pm

Well, I’ll go ahead and remove one of your “barriers to entry”, so to speak.  I attended the kickoff meeting of the Young Professionals Group a couple weeks ago.  I’ll let you (and other Lincolnite readers) know about future meetings/events put on by the group.

Barbara October 25, 2006 at 2:32pm

Hmm, I’m not sure that waiting till they come to you is a good strategy. I’ve noticed that in this town, if you just step up, you can easily get involved. Also, there’s no magic switch that makes you old and boring and with nothing to contribute once you hit your 40th birthday.

Mr. Wilson October 25, 2006 at 3:23pm

I’m not sure that waiting till they come to you is a good strategy.

I’m not saying that at all. Indeed, as I noted above, if I weren’t so blasted shy I would have been involved a long time ago. I take full responsibility for that.

What I want to communicate is that there are lots of Lincolnites “like me” who, for various reasons, haven’t taken steps to get involved despite an underlying desire to do so. To the extent they can be identified, they should be actively recruited. They probably should take the first step, but if they don’t, why not give them a nudge?

Also, there’s no magic switch that makes you old and boring and with nothing to contribute once you hit your 40th birthday.

I used to think there was no magic switch that would make a person do stereotypical parenty things like talking about poop, and then I became a parent and the switch was thrown. So I view your statement with some (lighthearted) skepticism. grin

Michael October 25, 2006 at 4:20pm

Hey, watch it with the “40-plus” stuff, sonny. People don’t become “sitcom fodder” with the tick of a clock (or flip of a calendar page).

You say “...Lincoln

Michael October 25, 2006 at 4:21pm

Some more ways to get involved (split onto another comment to get around the spam filter. Darned spammer.)

LIBA

Mayor’s Roundtable

Mr. Wilson October 25, 2006 at 5:09pm

...What drives the perception?

Three that come to mind: money (the idea that you have to have it or want it to join in); ignorance (whatever outreach groups are doing, there’s still a lot of ignorance about who can belong and how to get involved); and jealousy (as in, “those goody-goodies think they’re so good doing all that good”).

If you are sitting back ... etc etc ... is either an ego trip or an excuse.

Ouch! I’m not “waiting to be courted by” anybody, and I’m not “sitting back”. (Well, I wouldn’t call this website sitting back, though I admit it still isn’t complete. Dagnabbit.)

Besides, you’re missing the point. I’ve already made it clear that I blame myself for my lack of involvement. But this isn’t about me anyway. It’s about Lincolnites in general, and especially those whose talents and energy haven’t been tapped. The quiet kids in the classroom who do quality work but don’t make a scene.

Here’s the water. It’s up to you whether or not you drink.

Some horses can be shown water, others must be led to it. And occasionally you’ll run across a mule that you damn near have to throw in.

And by the way, thanks for the links!

Barbara October 25, 2006 at 6:37pm

Re: viewing with skepticism my comment about the magic over-40 switch. Well, you do have a choice. *You* decide whether or not over-40 means dead. *You* decide whether or not being a parent means you talk about poop. Trust me, not even your friends who are parents want to hear about someone else’s kid’s poop.

And most importantly, *you* decide whether or not to get involved. Squeaky wheel and all that. I agree that there are cliques in Lincoln and that they might not seem terribly open to newcomers with new ideas. In my neighborhood association, we cast around to find new people to join and to be active. It’s difficult. People are busy.

However, as a fellow shy person, I know that it takes *me* making the first contact. Take this as your own personal challenge - find one group you’d like to belong to or work with, and get in touch with them. DO something with that group, just one thing. See how it makes you feel.

It might take a while for you to be able to make needed changes - groups who aren’t use to having new people come on board can often be in a rut. They might also feel threatened. Don’t go barging in with the attitude that they’re doing everything wrong and you’re here to fix it.

Putting up a webpage is a *passive* act. Effecting change is active.

Mr. Wilson October 25, 2006 at 7:02pm

How did this become the “pile on Mr. Wilson” thread? Sheesh! I can’t tell if you’re intentionally missing the point, or if my between-the-lines message that I’m annoyed with my non-participation is so overwhelming that the rest of my message is rendered mute.

ST October 25, 2006 at 8:40pm

I hear your point loud and clear Mr. Wilson.

Part of being in a community organization is recruiting new members.  Every group I have ever been a part of has emphasized the need to invite other people that we know to be a part of it, so I don’t think it is outrageous at all that Mr. Wilson would think that someone along the line would have invited him to be a part of a group.

I am quite similar in nature to Mr. Wilson’s self-described “extroverted introvert” and I have been an active part of groups, but usually after someone has invited me to a meeting or urged me to join.  It is a very challenging thing to walk in cold to the random community organization of your choosing and make yourself a member.

Mr. T October 25, 2006 at 11:32pm

I disagree that putting up a webpage is necessarily a passive act per se. Sure, it definitely can be, depending on the content and context, but creating and maintaining a community portal that is

Barbara October 25, 2006 at 11:41pm

Hey Mr. Wilson - I didn’t mean to make this a ‘pile on you’ at all. I just come from the other side of the coin—begging people to please join in and help out, and hearing crickets chirp. Coming up with new ways to contact people and get them involved, and they don’t respond. I would be ecstatic if someone came forward to join in. Granted, it’s a neighborhood association and not LIBA, but hey, it’s a start and you’ll meet a lot of pretty powerful city people as a consequence.

Again, I’m not jumping your shiznit, but damn it would be great if people who wanted to make their views and ideas known would simply step up tothe plate. It might not work exactly as you expect, but it’s a start.

Michael October 26, 2006 at 1:58pm

The truth often hurts, and it seems there are a number of truths in this thread.

Truth 1: Outreach is more difficult than it seems like it should be. It’s difficult and discouraging, and that’s probably why many organizations don’t do as good a job of it as they we wish they would.

Truth 2: Everyone has an excuse for not doing more than they are.

“We’d love to have more involvement, but whenever we put out the call, we are received with apathy.”

“I’d love to be involved, but I don’t know how to connect.”

“I wish Hartley Neighborhood Association were as organized and in command as Near South, but, man, making it that way would be like a full time job. I’ve already got a job. And a blog. And programming projects. And home repair projects. And thinking about the blog, the programming projects, home repair projects, and improving HNA. And how will I manage all this? And—oooh, PlayStation!”

Truth 3: You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake.

Truth 4: I’m over 40. Argh.

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