Every great thing that has ever happened has begun with one person. For the Christians, it was Adam (because God isn’t a person – before you correct me.) For Atheists or Darwinists, it was that first mutation (or series of firsts, thereof). For myriad other religions, it’s pretty much the same ‘creation myth’ (to use the politically correct phrasing) with slightly differing bents. Whatever belief or disbelief you subscribe to this seems to be a fundamental underpinning. It also makes for a nice lead-in to what I want to discuss.
Rockford is a city. A city, like any machine, is made up of individual parts that act upon the whole when the machine is in motion, disrepair, or decline. While one individual component in a machine may not function as designed, function to 100% capability, or function at all, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the machine won’t work. Often, it will, but not as originally conceived and designed, nor to its full potential.
If you are a resident, former resident, or someone who does business in Rockford then – congratulations – you’re a part of something greater than yourself. You’re a part of this hybridized biosociomechanical machine. Please don’t let this go to your head, and start having delusions of grandeur about the Terminator – he was a cybernetic organism (or ‘cyborg’) – which is a totally different thing entirely. Sorry to burst your bubble. Feel free to fantasize for a moment, just the same.
Even though you’ll never be as superhuman as Schwarzenegger was, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have other ‘special powers and traits’ that you may choose to exercise. And this, dear readers, is what I want to talk about today: YOU. One single, lone, individual voice that makes up a component of the gestalt whole. And your voice can be as timorous or as resounding as you choose to make it.
I want you to take a moment to consider how amazing it is to have a voice. I mean this quite literally. Your voice is the single most important facet of your communications arsenal. While writing, body language, expressionism, fervor, and a number of other augmenting factors are all important (I’m still on the fence about interpretive dance and mime), your ability to vocalize your thoughts trumps them all, hands down, in my opinion. Your voice, in essence, can be used in two fundamental, basic, ways: for doing good, or for doing evil. Everything else is just parsing semantics thereafter.
Let’s start with folks who live in Rockford – you’re the first ones that I wish to address. I want you to consider your monetary investment in the city, community, and neighborhood in which you live (i.e. – your home, etc.). Now, I want you to consider every maligning statement that you have made about those same places – your city, community, and neighborhood – in recent past. Finally, I want you to consider what you feel others are likewise saying, and then consider the financial repercussions of not only your contribution to the negativity, but also to the gestalt of said-same. Know what you’ve done? You’ve propagated the negativity and – in essence – you’ve stolen something from yourself in the process. Be it pride, value in your neighborhood, or even value in your own home: you’ve assisted in the devaluation – however slight – of something you’ve got a financial stake in.
Those without the city limits, or those who are displaced natives, have the same effect. For those of you who live just outside of the city proper, regional stigma is a very real facet of your living situation, when you consider that Rockford is the major metropolitan area unto which all of those smaller cities and townships are attached. If that ship goes down, you’re still in the outlying lifeboat. You won’t go down with it. But it’s a hell of a lot tougher to achieve in a lifeboat what you can achieve and do in the ship which originally carried you upon its shoulders.
Ever thought of it that way? I’m going to go out on a limb (and I’d love to be wrong, here) and assume that most of you have not. Interconnected cities and metropolitan areas are an amorphous conglomeration that are collectively more powerful then their individual components.
Here’s where I’m betting those of you still reading this are now at, mentally: ‘So what? Those negatives exist. It’s all true, to be frank, and there’s nothing that I can do to change it.’
To which I reply (and would be twisting my Snively Whiplash mustache, if I had one): ‘Ah-ha! I’ve caught you in a lie!’ You’re wrong. And I don’t mean a little wrong. I mean super-über-massively wrong. And here’s why: remember your voice? Congratulations: you’ve just used it for evil.
Every individual has meaning. I have a particularly favorite quote from author Michael Connelly’s star character (and hard-boiled L.A. Detective) Harry Bosch: ‘Everyone counts, or no one counts.’ This is his creed. What it means is that regardless of who he finds dead, they’re all human beings. And the moment that you elect to value one life over that of another, you’ve lost a little bit of your soul. So from junkies to hoi-polloi, he treats them all equally: as human beings. They all began life as innocent babes who were someone’s daughter or son. Everything that came thereafter was a byproduct of the environment they were foisted into.
Now that I’ve dragged you down this rabbit hole with no crystal clear direction, I want to get to the core of what I want to share: you matter. You can make a difference. Your lone voice could be the final snowflake before the avalanche of change.
Here are a few things I want you to consider, when you’re all done reading this:
1.) That I – Heath D. Alberts – am a delusional, narcissistic lunatic who doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and should not be listened to. If you’re in this camp, then save yourself some time and bail out now.
2.) Go to community meetings, see what is being said, and add your thoughts to the process. If your problem isn’t being addressed, it might just be because you haven’t initiated the addressing.
3.) Start or join a neighborhood watch group. Learn who your neighbors are; connect with them on a social level. Look out for one another to make your immediate area more safe and secure.
4.) Be kind. Before you speak, think. Before you act, consider the repercussions. Before you anger, ask yourself if it’s worth it. To use the old adage: commit random acts of kindness.
5.) The police are often maligned, but often it isn’t justified. Have I had abysmal experiences with Rockford police response? Yes. Have I, likewise, had excellent experiences? Yes. Has that caused me to stop pestering them when I feel they have a job to do? Not in the slightest. If you see a crime, report it – don’t ignore it. Large or small, ignoring it will NEVER result in a positive solution. And just because it seems like ‘nothing was done’ or ‘they didn’t care’, I can speak candidly to specifics that have been perceived as such, but proved upon investigation to be otherwise. Several of them. It’s proven invaluable to be acquainted with individuals on the inside of the police department, let me tell you, because the insight it can provide about perceptions versus reality is – and has been – genuinely eye-opening.
6.) Volunteer. Oh, my sweet Lord, how important this one is. Youth programs, literacy programs, community outreach programs, environmental programs, religious programs, animal shelters, and on and on and on are ALWAYS seeking more bodies to effect change in your community. It’s a proven fact that children with mentors, and additional positive role models outside of the home, are far more likely to become the citizens they should become both for their own benefit, and for that of the community. Literate individuals are more self-empowered, and are more likely to land a higher paying job – even if it isn’t much higher: higher is higher. Community outreach provides an opportunity to eliminate crime before it starts. Be it education, food, shelter, teaching, or anything else – anything that empowers the individual, or assists them in fulfilling a human need permits them to focus more closely on more gainful endeavors, and creates an environment where a potential criminal act of desperation is far less likely. Know what else is cool about volunteering? You meet new people, you learn new skills, and you become a wholly better human being via gratification, and outlook. Honest to God, it’s true. I promise. Can’t afford the time? Find a cause that you believe in. Give them $5. Every dollar helps – it really does. But before you donate, do your homework. There are, sadly, a lot of charlatans and crooks out there. And it’s sad, because a lot of genuine organizations suffer due to the malicious intent of the few.
7.) Talk to your elected officials. Call your Alderman. E-mail your local, state, and federal leaders. If enough folks do, and they’re of a like mind, those individuals in political power – who were elected by, and work for you – are far more likely to take notice. I once read a statistic that said for every one individual who does this, there are 99 more who want to, but never followed through. Politicians, amazingly, know and understand this concept. So receiving ten e-mails in a week about a certain issue is, often times, like receiving a thousand, in their mind. Imagine if we all followed through?
8.) Vote. For the love of everything that you hold dear, vote. As often as your right to do so permits. I get so tired and discouraged when I hear folks say that their vote doesn’t count. As I’ve mentioned before, in this past major election cycle, something like 20% of registered voters in Rockford actually took a moment to make their voices heard. Imagine that: 1 out of 5 individuals took control of YOUR future. Their votes, then, not only counted, but counted as five – rather than just one – in the most glib conceptual sense. Still think that your vote doesn’t count? That’s what those who vote want you to think – because, then, they’re more prone to get their way.
9.) Get educated. If there’s a particular topic you’re interested in addressing in your community then seek out individuals or organizations that can assist you in expanding your knowledge. Then, share that knowledge with others. Becoming a mouthpiece for a cause creates a cascade effect because – let’s face it – we’re a society of chatty individuals. Instead of talking about last night’s episode of CSI: Hoboken, or which star got knocked up by an alien, let’s work the conversations around us into something more malleable for positive change.
10.) Invest in your community. If you like what a small establishment is doing in and for your community, then ‘vote’ with your money, and patronize that establishment. For example: I work with a number of individuals who patronize a fast food chain (that rhymes with ‘Flickmonald’s’) in the immediate vicinity of the company. Day in and day out, I seem to hear complaints of orders screwed up, missing items, undercooked items, sub-par food, and a million other things that all lead me to ask: “Then why do you continue to go there?” Ironically, there are a few local, ‘fast’ food eateries within the vicinity and, though they are a little out of the way, I have >NEVER ONCE< heard these same complaints about them. Not once. So – in essence – these individuals are condoning the poor fare and service by continuing to ‘vote’ with their patronage. The same can be said for your role in your community. If you don’t like it, then make every effort – even a small one – to make it better. Likewise, if a business is setting a poor example (discrimination, shoddy products or services, poor customer service, environmental or health issues, etc.) use your absence to voice your opposition.
11.) Think about your personal impact in the community. Are you a thoughtless litterbug? Do you toss cigarette butts out the window, or spit gum on the ground? Do you put your garbage out in a manner that says, ‘Please wind and animals – make a mess of this as soon as possible!’ Do you belittle your community in public? Do you have road signs hanging in your garage that you ‘found’? Is your yard a mess? Do your shrubs look like Uncle Fester with bed head? Do you ride your Harley through the neighborhood at 2 AM? Play your music loud enough to move furniture? Is your dog a yappy nightmare? I could go on, but you get my point: all negative acts that begin with you become felt by the social whole of individuals around you. So think about setting an example. I guarantee that in reading this paragraph, you should have thought of at least three things you’re doing that make negative societal sense. And – if not – then kudos to you, but read it again anyway because I’m pretty sure you’re either in denial, or not thinking hard enough.
12.) Treat community and social figures with respect. Often times, we seem to forget that police officers, politicians, 911 dispatchers, teachers, firefighters, doctors, public defenders, and other individuals who serve in a sociopolitical capacity are real people. People with feelings, needs, thoughts, and desires. Yet we still manage to treat them with far less dignity, respect, and kindness than we would wish to be treated. In these cases, ‘Do unto others…’ becomes doubly important. Every dressing down, screaming at, and vilification these individuals undergo wears away at an enamel of self that – often – never comes back at full strength. Also, remember the proverb: ‘You catch more flies with honey, than vinegar’. Be kind – it goes a long way. And for God’s sake, before you start going all Jerry Springer on them, take a step back, and consider the situation from their perspective. Yes – there are douchecanoes in every profession. Just make sure whomever you’re unloading on is really one of them, and not just perceived as such.
Is any of this easy? Will any of this give you more time in front of the television solving puzzles with Pat & Vanna? Nope. Change is hard. One of my personal quotes (and mantras) has always been this: There are two ways to do something – the easy way, and the right one. Want to see a change in your community? Less taxes? Higher home values? Less crime? Then stop choosing the easy way. Until you do, you’re a part of the problem. And – until now – you might not even have realized it.
Heath D. Alberts – Co-Founder & Marketing Director
Categories: Community & Events