To-Do List for Lexington: Postscript

(Part of the To-Do List for Lexington series.  Click here for an overview and links to the rest of the series.)

Every night we go through the same routine.

IMG_3925 After he takes his bath and gets his pajamas on, we go to his room.  I sit in the recliner, and he clambers up into my lap.  We pull a book from the shelf – the books are getting longer now – and I add a bit of vocal drama as I read to him.

His little brain absorbs everything – pictures, sounds, words.  He asks lots of questions now, too.  We finish the book, and place it back on the shelf.

I pick him up, and we say good night to mementos from his young life, scattered about the room.  It started with 2 or 3 items after finishing Goodnight Moon, but has steadily grown to a list of 13 things: a stuffed polar bear and penguin from his great-grandmother, a huge stuffed giraffe, and an array of other objects from around the room.

I take him down the hall to say a final good night to Mommy, and we go back to his room.  I sit back in the recliner as he turns out the light, and we find each other in the darkness.  I pull him up into my lap, and give him a little water to drink.  I tell him “that’s enough”, and place the cup back on the shelf.

I pull him up onto my chest, and he places his head on my shoulder.  After a few seconds of silence, I tell him I love him in Spanish: “Te amo, Carson” and he responds “te amo, Daddy”*.  He’s starting to get tired now, and his words are slurring slightly.  I then quote from one of my favorite baby books, and he matches my cadence shortly after I start: “I love you through and through – yesterday, today, and tomorrow, too.”  Then, “I love you, Carson” followed by a barely audible “I love you, Daddy”.

I hold him tight.  In the darkness, silent except for our slow breathing, I feel the twinge of nostalgia for this moment.  He turns 3 this week.  He’s growing so fast, and it won’t be too long before he needs to be independent from hugs and kisses from his dad.  It won’t be long before we won’t experience this kind of closeness.

My mind wanders a bit as I ponder our future, his future.  I am holding so much potential in my arms.  What kind of world will he inherit?

I get up from the recliner and place him in his bed.  I tuck him in with three more stuffed animals, and kiss his forehead.  He stirs a bit to get comfortable, and I leave his room. “Good night Carson.  I love you.  See you in the morning.”


I often get asked why I speak out so much on this blog – especially during this To-Do List for Lexington series.  Behind the questions are a variety of thoughts about my motives:

  • Some folks think that I must have an enormous ego, and that I believe that I have all of the answers.
  • Others think that I must be preparing to run for elected office, and these posts are part of some sort of political platform.
  • Some people – including members of my family – think I’m just crazy.

They’re all wrong.

I may or may not have a huge ego, but I don’t assume I have all of the answers.  I am perfectly willing to engage in democratic debate on these ideas.

I don’t have the time or patience to devote to political office.  I’ve seen the demands on elected representatives, and the kinds of people they deal with day-to-day.  This isn’t a political platform.  (Not for me, anyway.)

And, I’m not crazy.  Well… at least as far as my motives behind my writing.

The underlying assumption most folks have is that there is huge risk to speaking out, especially when addressing powerful interests in our city.  I could scare away customers.  The powerful could make life more difficult for me or for my family or for my employees.

And those risks may or may not be real.

But there is an even greater, very real risk in not speaking out, in being quiet.

There is the risk that we pursue the wrong kinds of economic development.  There is the risk of wasteful spending in the face of economic crisis.  There is the risk of choking off our city’s downtown.  There is the risk of further stagnation in the local economy.

There is the risk that Lexington loses what makes it a special place to live and work – that Lexington becomes less than it should be.

I find that those risks to our future far outweigh the risks of speaking out.  I would be ‘crazy’ to remain silent.


I want Lexington to be special.  I want it to be a vibrant, exciting, growing kind of place that my son can stay in and prosper.  I want Lexington to be better.  And I hope that you do, too.

That is why I speak out.  That is why I hope you will join me.  Let’s craft a better future for our city.  For ourselves.  For our children.

I love you, Carson.


* I know that “te amo” is usually reserved for romantic love, and that “te quiero” is probably more appropriate, but this habit was ingrained before I caught my error…  We’ll fix it later.


An open letter to Lexington’s leaders from the next generation
by Carson Morris

“How do we build a city the next generation will be homesick for?”
– Rebecca Ryan (via Tom Eblen)

Dear Leaders of Lexington,

  Carson Morris, Superstar

As you return to Lexington from your trip to Madison, Wisconsin, flush with ideas and possibility in the wake of your visit, I wanted to let you know that we stand ready to help make Lexington better.

While 260 of you were experiencing Madison directly, several hundred of us were following your visit in near-real-time, thanks to those few of you who shared the event using Twitter.  And while you were talking with Madison, we were actively talking about you, Madison, Lexington, and our future.  We had a vibrant discussion.

And when I saw Rebecca Ryan’s question, I hoped that you really took it to heart.  Because it means everything when I decide whether to stay in Lexington or not.  And it should inform every decision you make about our city: How do you build a city I will be homesick for?

Making me and my generation homesick won’t really be about “stuff” and status.  I know many of you were talking about tangible things – jobs, industries, neighborhoods, amenities, buildings, bike trails.  But that isn’t really what we value.  Those things don’t really make us want to stay here.  Making UK a top 20 research institution?  That may be great for attracting companies to Lexington, but I don’t see how that keeps me here.

If you want me to be homesick, you’ll have to connect with my heart.  Then, when I leave, Lexington will tug on my heart.  It will call to me.  Lexington will be the one place on earth I want to be.

How do you create a Lexington for my generation?  How do you make us homesick for Lexington?  As you settle back into your regular routines, I wanted to help you set an agenda to implement the lessons of Madison for me and my
generation.  Here are a few of my ideas.  I’m sure my friends will have many more:

Listen to us.  For years, we’ve listened as you tell us what our generation wants and needs.  And then we leave town to go to school or to find a job.  And those other places seem built for us, so we never come back.

Too many times, your tuners are set to “broadcast” instead of “receive”.  As leaders, you are used to being listened to.  We understand that.  But I and my generation need to be heard.  And we need to know that you hear us.

The Madison experience was a great case in point.  For months now, our generation has been urging you to adopt Twitter (and other social media platforms) to talk with us.  In Madison, a few of you suddenly began using Twitter.  While we appreciate your new openness, we also wonder why you didn’t grant us the same credibility as those you talked with in Madison.

If you want us to stay, you must listen to us more.

Engage us.  At one point yesterday, Mayor Newberry declared that “I don’t think there has been a time in Lexington’s history where we’ve had the level of civic engagement we have now… Lexington needs your engagement in our community now.

This is a profound and true statement from our mayor.  We do need your engagement (including you, Mr. Mayor). Now.

We’re already having conversations about the future of our city.  We’re already saying what matters to us.  We’re already talking about leaving.

In order to engage us, don’t wait for us to find you: you need to come to where we are and join our ongoing conversations.  Follow us on Twitter.  Spend time in our schools.  Read and comment on our blogs.  Share your thoughts and what you think about ours.  Debate with us.  Ask us what you can do.  Then do it.  Build on our ideas.  (P.S. We have a LOT of ideas.)

If you want us to stay, you must engage us more.

Value us.  As community leaders, you have so many opportunities to keep us in Lexington.  One of the biggest: demonstrate how much you value our talent and our intellect and our creativity.

When I get to high school, hire me as a summer intern.  Let me work on special and important projects.  Encourage me to engage my friends in the efforts to grow your organizations.

While I’m in college, toss me the keys and give me the opportunity to create something you might never imagine.  Will I stumble?  Absolutely.  Could you lose money?  Possibly.  But – if I’m successful – we both will profit.  And, either way, knowing that you value me will make me incredibly loyal – to you and to our city.

When I graduate and get a job, ask me what kind of places I want to live in.  What I want to do after hours.  What kind of neighborhood I want.  What is important to me.  Then – and this is the vital part – go build it for me.  It will benefit us both.

(P.S. Also do these things for your current generation of citizens and employees.  Then stand back.  Your success will blow you away.  It might keep some of the current generation in Lexington, too.)

If you want us to stay, you must value us more.

Respect us
.  Listening.  Engaging.  Valuing.  It is all about showing fundamental human respect for us and our viewpoints.  If you demonstrate that kind of respect in your actions and in your attitudes, several wonderful things will begin to happen.

First, the right kinds of “stuff” – jobs, buildings, neighborhoods, amenities – will begin to emerge to tug on our hearts.  Our community – and our love for our community – will become much more vibrant.

Second, our economy will begin to flourish.  Giving us a platform to express and implement our ideas will help create the idea-rich economy that you learned about in Madison.  Having our voices and views incorporated into the community’s future gives us a stake in making that future happen.

Third, our brand will improve.  As Daddy has mentioned previously, you don’t get to decide our brand.  Blue horses or spotted yaks are irrelevant to whether I choose to love my city and to whether I choose to stay in Lexington.  A better brand emerges from being a better city.  And that starts with respecting your citizens and employees.

If you want to build a better Lexington – the kind of Lexington you are envisioning upon your return from Madison – you must listen to us.  You must engage us.  You must value us.  You must openly and actively demonstrate your respect for us.

Then, you will have built a city that my generation will be homesick for.  That could be your legacy.  We’re already here.  And we want to engage you.  We want to help you succeed.  Join us.


Carson Tate Morris
2 years, 5 months old
Citizen, Future Voter, and Superstar

Two ways

There are only two ways to live your life:
One is as if nothing is a miracle;
The other is as if everything is a miracle.
– Albert Einstein

As I see the world through my 2-year-old son’s eyes, I’m constantly reminded of the everyday wonders we sometimes take for granted as adults.  I’ve always liked Einstein’s “two ways” quote, and have tried to maintain a child-like amazement at what I encounter in life.

Jaded people (the “nothing is a miracle” people), frankly, bore me to tears.  It is far too easy – and lazy – to pretend that you’ve been there and done that, and that there is nothing new or wonderful in the world.  Ultimately, that cynical attitude stunts one’s ability to grow, learn, and change.  It isolates jaded people from others.

I was talking (debating, really) with a group of business leaders the other day, and it struck me that there is a nearly identical “two way” attitude division in the business world.

The Lazy Way
Some companies approach their business with a cold, calculating, flinty-eyed precision.  These companies look at business as a pure numbers game.  They often see their customers, suppliers, and employees as opponents or obstacles or dupes to be taken advantage of in their pursuit of the almighty dollar.

They see every relationship as an opportunity to “take” — in fact, “relationship” is seen as a soft, weak, and silly notion which has no place in business.  This is the case among executives at my last company.

In their lazy reliance on numbers, such miserly companies manage for the short term, the “quick fix” — “Let’s make a mint before the customer (or employee or supplier) gets wise to us!”  Eventually, these companies get so disconnected from customers and employees that the dominant day-to-day focus of the organization is on internal politics and positioning.

From my experience, I can tell you that such shrinking companies are miserable places to work, and they ultimately suffer long, slow, painful deaths as customers and employees flee in droves.

The Generous Way
Other companies adopt a fundamentally different philosophy and approach to their business.  They approach business with a spirit of generosity.  They see that building long-term relationships with customers, employees, and community creates both financial and human rewards.  While the numbers might inform their choices, these companies make decisions based on doing the right thing.

“Doing the right thing” shifts the focus from the financial numbers to the human equation. Doing the right thing isn’t easy.  It can be hard work.  It isn’t always profitable.  “Right thing” companies usually grow more slowly than “quick fix” companies (at first).  But they do continue to grow when quick fix companies fade (or implode). They build lasting relationships which sustain them through good times and bad.

The “right thing” companies still pursue profit, but their primary focus is outward: on generous relationships with their customers, their employees, and their communities.  They trust that the profit will follow.

These growing, vibrant, connected companies are engaging and rewarding places to work (and to do business with), and they have long-term employees and customers.

Everything is a Miracle
As the economy weakens, many companies have scrambled back to the quick fix of analyzing cold, hard numbers (and charts and plans) and have abandoned their “soft and fuzzy” relationships with people.  The numbers make them feel safe and precise and comfortable.  But they aren’t any of those things…

They might not know it yet, but they are the walking dead.

The companies who will ultimately thrive in this economy (and who will drive real economic growth) are the ones who continue to connect with their customers, employees, and communities — and who continue to do the right things.

But Albert Einstein could have told you that.  My 2-year-old could have told you that.  It is just that simple.