Speaker makes an important point

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

A speaker from Chicago came to McCook Tuesday to address a statewide meeting of people from rural communities in Nebraska. Without question, the differences between Chicago and Nebraska are immense, starting with population, which stands at a mind-boggling 7.5 million people in the metropolitan Chicago area, compared to 1.7 million population in the entire state of Nebraska.

So what could a speaker from Chicago contribute? How could her message be of value to representatives of rural towns where economic survival is often the number one priority?

Bliss Browne, the originator of "Imagine Chicago," spoke rapidly, with ideas flowing in a quickly moving stream of thought. Yet, for those who listened closely, there were points to ponder.

The heart of her message is this: "Each and every human being possesses the enormous gift of imagination." That's where we must start -- whether it be in the inner city of Chicago or the open plains of Nebraska. "Envisioning is the realm of the future ... where new possibilities can break in if we are willing to be dream bearers," Browne declared.

What that means, for every community, is that the process of change must begin by imagining the possibilities. We must strive to know and understand our communities, and we must think about how to make them better.

But, of course, that's not enough. We can't get by with just dreaming. We must follow through. We must take positive steps, together, to improve the places where we live.

That brings us to the second part of Browne's message. "Every voice is important," she says, meaning that all segments of the community need to be involved. This is an especially important piece of advice for those in positions of community influence, who need to be careful to listen to all age and income groups before barging forward with a plan of action.

And who is the most important segment of the population to hear from when change is being considered? As Browne sees it, the crucial consideration is the viewpoints of young people, because they are, in a very real sense, the future.

We need to pay attention to youth's hopes and dreams ... and we need to join them in positive ways to build our communities. While we strive together to move forward, we must beware of the cynics -- the grouchy, negative people -- who attempt to drag us down with their "bah, humbug" attitudes.

Being cynical "is a cheap way of eroding hope," Browne said. Instead, Browne points out, we need "to invite one another into hope" and "create space for possibility."

Take risks, Browne says. Work together. Pursue your highest hopes. Then, she concludes, " ... this fertile land will become known as the place that possibility grows and finds wings. Your stories will soar and inspire."

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