Why don’t more good things happen?
Throughout my career, I’ve had the all-too-frequent opportunity to observe how things don’t work out – in academics, in business, and in local politics.
A good share of the blame resides with ‘bad actors’ – folks who gum up the decision-making process and derail worthy initiatives. For fun, I’ve begun a typology of these people.
- There’s the Smug Know-It-All, who pretends to have all of the answers, and therefore doesn’t need or seek input from experts or the public. The Smug Know-It-All just wants to be ‘right’.
- There’s the Intentionally Clueless, who lacks sufficient information or sound principles for making strategic decisions, and who instead makes those decisions based upon personalities of the people involved. The Intentionally Clueless just wants to be liked.
- There’s the Do-Nothing, who struggles mightily to rationalize the status quo, and who hunkers down and defers decisions in the face of any initiative which promises change. The Do-Nothing just wants to avoid doing anything.
- And, there’s the Obstructionist, who actively blocks initiatives by constructing elaborate hurdles for an initiative, often by invoking process-related parliamentary maneuvers.
Notice that none of these folks are engaged in solving problems. Instead, they pour their energy toward squelching debate, often by exhausting or diverting their opponents’ ability to continue the fight.
Attend an Urban County Council session – or watch one on GTV3 – and it is surprising to see how many of these bad actors are on the council or work for city government. We were able to see versions of all of these bad actors on display during the Parsons Affair, when the council decided whether or not to bond the Distillery District.
Throughout Lexington’s leadership, we can see these bad actors. We see them among our elected representatives, among public employees, in publicly-supported agencies (like Commerce Lexington or the Downtown Development Authority), and in local businesses.
More troubling, we see this behavior among our own citizens – amongst ourselves. We know it all. We remain clueless. We do nothing. We obstruct.
We are the bad actors, too.
If we are to build a better Lexington, we must declare such behavior
unacceptable. Then, we must make bad actors answer for their actions.
Lexington must demand accountability. From its leaders. And from its citizens.
How do we begin to make good things happen in Lexington?
By making Lexington’s leaders and citizens accountable for doing good things. Reward them when they do the right things; punish them when they don’t.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But what, exactly, do we do? How do we really demand accountability?
Here’s a partial list of what I think we need to do. I hope you will expand on these ideas in the comments below:
- Speak up. Let your representatives, neighbors, friends, and fellow citizens know what matters to you. Write letters. Make phone calls. Send emails.
- Show up. Make time to attend council meetings or local neighborhood meetings, especially when they address issues which matter to you.
- Inform yourself. Find out what is happening in our city.
- Join together. Actively look for people with similar viewpoints, and unite your voices. One voice is too easy to ignore; a movement is not.
- Campaign. Fight for your causes, and recruit others to them. Lobby for your point of view.
- Call ’em out. When you see bad actors squelching public discussion, don’t let them get away with it. Call out their anti-democratic behavior for being anti-democratic. Make them think twice before they do it again.
- Vote ’em out. When representatives, public employees, organizations, or businesses continue to act in bad faith, deprive them of what they need most: Votes, jobs, or funds.
- Persist. Bad actors are betting that you’ll give up. Make them lose that bet.
Gandhi urged us to “be the change you wish to see in the world”. William Johnsen offered this pithier 18th-century version, in 10 two-letter words: “If it is to be, it is up to me.” Both of them recognized that real, productive change takes place when we stop waiting for someone else to fix things.
If Lexington is to reach its full potential – if we are to build a better, more livable, more prosperous city – we must demand accountability from our leaders and from ourselves. Especially from ourselves.
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