The other day, while shopping in the supermarket, I saw a couple standing in front of me in line behind a woman with a child who was about 8 years old. As his mother began to check out, the little boy looked behind and said hello to the pregnant woman and her husband standing behind them. What puzzled me was not the sincerity or well-meaning sentiment behind the little boy’s greeting but, instead, the reaction of the mother who forcefully reprimanded her child for saying hello, stating “you NEVER say hello to anyone you don’t know.” In an instant, I watched the child’s mood change from happy to confused and troubled, trying to understand what he did wrong. The question that crossed my mind was “how do we ever meet someone unless we are willing to introduce ourselves?” I was taught growing up that “a stranger is a friend you just haven’t met yet” and it can start with hello.
I do recognize that we live in a more dangerous world these days, especially online. But, have we lost all sense of context? Has the world devolved into black-and-white rules, with no shades of gray? Are we really supposed to walk down the street, staring at our phones, ignoring EVERY stranger we encounter, looking up only occasionally to make sure we don’t bump into a wall, a pole or walk into the street?
Last week we discussed conformity as a community and how it keeps us from stepping outside the box or moving forward. I felt like I was watching that article playing out before me in the supermarket the other day, just in a different way. I walked out the store wondering how that child’s life will turn out if he’s afraid to speak up. It also made me think about how many of us are still held back by past events in our lives where we were made to feel wrong about so many things. I’ve read that if you chain an elephant to a stake, restricting its movement for 30 days, once freed the elephant will continue to confine itself as if it were still in chains. Unfortunately, I fear that little boy will have a different version of the same problem. By limiting his external interactions, he will turn inward, shying away from new thoughts, experiences and opportunities.
Applying that concept to Mount Vernon’s government, we need to ask ourselves a few questions. What are the chains keeping us in the same place? Are they real or imagined? How long did it take to get here and how long will it take to change? There’s an old saying “Just because something is, doesn’t mean it should be” and “just because it has been, doesn’t make it right.” It’s time Mount Vernon breaks out of its old ways before the world leaves us behind.
I’ve always stated that people are a product of their environment, so if we change the conditions, we can shift the mindset. This year, I watched our world pivot and change its behavior to combat a major pandemic. I’ve seen people stepping up to lift others suffering from financial hardship during these trying times. Unfortunately, I also watched a man’s last breath get squeezed out by a knee on his neck, bringing worldwide attention to the difference between how we treat each other as human beings. In protest, I’ve watched people of all races; colors, sex, and age come together in a common cause for change. It’s always the most difficult challenges that force us to change our mindset and pull together for the better. When that happens, it transports us from “we can’t” pessimistic downers, to “we can” optimism champion.
Why does it take these kinds of tragedies to effectuate change? How come we only focus on being better or stepping up when tragedy hits close to home? Why do we only seem to appreciate life and one another when it appears that the end is near? The ability to rise above and beyond the challenges in life are gifts of strength granted to us all, with no one above another. So, why only choose to use them in times of tribulation? Why ignore these gifts in our daily interactions? Maybe, it’s because many of us are simply too busy focusing inward on ourselves, instead of outward towards others. We’re blinded by looking for the “what’s in it for me” angle rather than “what’s in it for everyone.” I’m afraid there’s still plenty of the same thinking going on in City Hall right now.
Someone once told me that Mount Vernon is going nowhere, and it’s thrilled to death about it. Defensively, I dismissed that characterization at first. As I thought more deeply about it, I wondered if there was some truth to it. This commitment to conformity in our political thinking has taken us nowhere and will continue until we, as a whole shift the dynamic. Mount Vernon has been shackled to a post for too long and we’ve forgotten what it was like to move forward. We must embrace the instinct of that little boy in the supermarket to engage with the world and not run from it because it might be dangerous, messy or difficult.
There are only two possible destinations for Mount Vernon. One is nowhere, and the other requires us to rise above our current thinking and step into our greater selves. If we’re at our best only when we face a life-threatening challenge, then its time to realize our city is dying. So if we’re not ready for the slow singing, or flower bringing, then we must rise to the challenge, or prove that mother in the supermarket and our critics’ right.
If you have thoughts or comments about this issue or any other, reach out to me at [email protected].