Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.” If that’s true, then perhaps St. Louis has a lot more going for it than one might imagine.
Granted, the region’s recent troubles, well documented here and across the country, don’t always show it in a positive light. Honest issues-based disagreements range from race relations to education, crime, government structure and much more. Such difficult, complex issues require honest, open discussion and debate. More important, all parties involved need to listen to one another and recognize that each of us – friends, neighbors and others – have a valid perspective and share a commitment to make ours a better place to live, work and play. As Gandhi indicated, honest disagreement can be healthy.
Often overlooked is all that’s right with the region. Our universities enjoy national acclaim, for instance. Our entrepreneurial, biotech and financial sectors provide a strong foundation for the local economy. Our system of parks, trails, greenways and cultural institutions goes unmatched by other metros our size. Also, St. Louis’ amazing philanthropic community supports a large, committed group of nonprofits. Time and again, St. Louis has shown itself to be a community of people ready to help one another, making this a great place to raise a family.
Still, although St. Louis should take pride in all of this, the region can become even better. We shouldn’t settle for the status quo, not only because other cities will leave us behind but also because improving conditions for anyone makes our region stronger for everyone. Although we may not like protestors taking to the streets, have we really listened to why they’re there? Change requires openness to change and to opportunities that change may represent.
When people outside our region hear “St. Louis,” too often they apparently picture riots, crime and civil discord. They don’t focus on all the great things that make St. Louis a special place. We have to change that narrative, perhaps by following a few strategies:
• Study the current issues that matter to the region. Given their complexity, take time to research and understand the good, the bad and the ugly truths.
• Broaden your perspective. Listen to those with different points of view.
• Be attentive and willing to engage in thoughtful, open discussion.
• Stand up for what you know to be right.
• Focus on keeping the debate on the message, not the messenger.
• Collaborate willingly in difficult times.
• Remain open to compromise.
• Back up passion for a cause with data, facts and logic.
• Express your views as a volunteer, an advocate, a political candidate or, perhaps most important of all, a voter.
When all’s said and done, taking action remains the best way to make things happen.
Yemi S. Akande-Bartsch is the president and CEO of FOCUS St. Louis, the region’s premier civic leadership organization.