Riff Raff, by Michael Tilley
Thousands of years ago when employed by a local chamber of commerce, a gaggle of us chamber folks from around the country gathered in Norman, Okla., to learn from each other about how to improve our respective organizations so we might help improve our communities.
Of the many discussions with that group about community dynamics, the most memorable is that of the differences between the energies and intelligence required to drive, delay or destroy community progress.
The discussion is best captured in the consideration of building a block wall. As we note the steps of construction, please consider how the steps are analogous to community development — be it physical or policy changes. (Admittedly, this could be labeled the thoughts of a simpleton, but sometimes it’s good to review the basics.)
Different talents and much time is required to build our block wall. A location is selected. A footing is dug, leveled and prepped. A form is built within the footing area. Prepping includes using rebar within the form. Concrete is correctly mixed and poured and leveled.
Let’s pause, let the concrete cure, and consider the time and talents required just to get to the point where blocks can be placed.
After the pause we run a string (level) line to measure our progress as we place the blocks. Blocks are strategically placed along the construction area. Scaffolding is readied. Mortar is mixed. Now begins the time consuming process of applying mortar and block to the wall. Each block is tapped down, or to the side, or shimmed up or whatever it takes to ensure the wall is straight and level. Block ties may be added to enhance wall strength.
Let’s again pause and let the first few lines of block and mortar harden before we add the weight of more blocks and mortar.
With each new layer of blocks (community development) we essentially repeat the above process. We run a string (level) line to measure our progress as we place the blocks. The blocks are strategically placed along the construction area. The scaffolding is readied. Mortar is mixed. And now begins the time consuming process of individually applying mortar and block to the wall. Each block is tapped down, up, to the side or whatever it takes to ensure the wall is straight and level.
And after many hours of hard work and energy and intelligence from people with unique skill sets, we have a block wall.
But the thing is, any no-talent fool sporting a sledgehammer may in just a few minutes greatly damage or destroy our wall that required the precious resources of time and talent. In other words, Logic (the skills and time required to build our wall) is often no match against Loud (the no-talent fool and sledgehammer). It’s easy to be negative; to be against a plan or idea. Because we humans have a tendency to fear what we don’t understand, it’s easier to defuse a vision than it is to infuse it.
That’s not to say critiques of any process or changes to the process are unwelcome. Back on our block wall, adjustments are common. Structural changes are possible. The level line and eyes of other workers help the block layers keep the wall straight and level. The block layers may request a mortar mix that is more/less dry. A construction foreman may arrive and require blocks to be removed to make room for an unplanned window. This is typically accomplished without personal attacks or an arrest.
However, construction on a real wall ends at some point. In a community, the construction never ends. Or at least it shouldn’t. Show me a city or region not adding to its community development wall, and I’ll show you a dying city or region.
Fort Smith is no different than most cities. Some folks here want to build too quickly on the wall. Some seek a slower pace. Others want the wall to return to its level and shape and color of yesteryear. Others seek a wall that looks nothing like the level and shape and color of yesteryear.
Leaders in previous generations built the wall on which we in Fort Smith and the region now build. We may not all agree about how the wall was built, or if too much wall was built, or not enough. But we must agree to keep building.
Whatever the pace or preference, our interactions must be responsible, respectful and create the constructive merger of time and talent. We will have only ourselves to blame if we allow a no-talent group of fools sporting sledgehammers to greatly damage or destroy our wall.