Community Development Society

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President's Update - Plow through for community development

By Dave Lamie

It's hard to believe that the middle of February has already passed us by. A recent notice of a dear friend learning that she has cancer and a colleague who suddenly lost her mother gives me pause. Many of you have experienced similar events either directly yourselves or in relation to family, friends, or colleagues. The more mature we come, the more often these reminders of life's fleetingness and human frailty occur. It as at these times that we may also encounter the power of community to help buoy us up to face the adversities of life.

One of my most memorable college teachers used to deliver a lecture entitled "the plow" to help us reflect on how we would respond to life's challenges. As the mule pulls the plow, it slices through the soil with forward momentum, leaving a clean, weed-free furrow behind. This represents our life when we feel we are making progress and all is going well. But, fields often have rocks laying hidden beneath the surface, and sometimes they are big and firmly planted. Some plows are built on a rigid frame, and when they hit such a rock, they often break, requiring substantial repair. Sometimes they are so broken they simply must be returned to the smelter. Technological advances produced a plow that would spring backward when it encountered the rock. The plow operator would need to stop and reset the heavy spring-loaded mechanism before proceeding. Some later tractor-driven models were similar, but they only needed the operator to stop and reverse the tractor in order to reset the blade. Later versions included an auto-reset feature that would trip the blade back when it hit the rock, but it would automatically reset; no stopping or reversing required.

The question left with us at the end of this talk was "what kind of plow are you"?  How will you respond to the challenges that life brings you. We know that it is part of the human condition that we will face many challenges in our lives. We surely have some choice over how we will respond to these challenges and that we can likely build resiliency and capacity as individuals to help. But, what roles can the community play to help strengthen and build the networks of support necessary for individuals to be more resilient? What can we do collectively that individuals cannot do for themselves? Who are those in our communities that are not benefitting from what the community can provide them? Can a robust community that truly cares for and provides for all individuals expect reciprocity from those individuals who benefit? Can we, as community developers, truly help to create these kinds of communities or is this just too daunting a task?

As we all make preparations to gather at our annual conference in July in Lexington, Kentucky, I challenge you to consider how important it is that we, as community development practitioners, find our own community of interest to help support us in the daunting challenge of, each in our own way, helping to create communities that make a strong and lasting impact on the lives of individuals. Never has it been more important for all of us to have a strong network of friends and colleagues who are bound by a common interest in making this world a better place through making stronger, more resilient communities. We hope to see you there!

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