A few weeks ago, Michelle (my lovely wife who is her own, powerful woman) and I took a road trip through Oregon – we travelled down the coast (pirates!), inland through a State Forest (Tillamook!), and then wrapped up our brief trip with some urban adventures in Portland (craft everything!). Michelle and I got a firsthand look at how the philosophy of the state’s early pioneers continues to influence that culture of leadership in Oregon. Through conversations, news, museums, universities, and various other sound bites, I learned about the pioneer culture of Oregon and how such a philosophy still informs and inspires the community to this day.
This article is about leadership – specifically, how to lead like a pioneer. Suffice to say that pioneers get there first, they take risks, and they build things in new places. Sometimes this happens literally (e.g. at the end of the Oregon Trail) and sometimes this happens metaphorically (e.g. Portland is a recycling pioneer, with a program that dates back to the 1970s).
EXAMPLES OF Pioneering in Oregon
Being an actual pioneer. From 1800-1850, pioneers (explorers, settlers, downtrodden immigrants with no space to move in Eastern America) moved West in search of land and opportunity. To call such an endeavour a “massive risk” is a bit of an understatement, as hewing their existence from an unknown land resulted in failure – in the form of turning back, lost savings, or even death – for many settlers. Sure, some of these pioneers have been individually celebrated for their leadership; for the most part, though, these were folks who lead without title and by example.
Recycling and other sustainable things. When Mrs. Joe H. Rand (a recycling activist before there were really recycling activists) spoke with Oregon Governor Tom McCall in February 1970, her support of Governor McCall’s insistence that bottlers (and other beverage industry executives) use returnable containers absolutely went against common practice in Oregon as well as every other state in the union, which McCall argued wasted 48 billion bottles and cans per year. “Despite…opposition [from beverage companies], the Oregon State Legislature passed the Bottle Bill in July, 1971, becoming a national leader for recycling. Several other states followed with similar laws,” says the Oregon Historical Project. In the 1970s, while everyone else was clogging dumps with glass and metal beverage containers, folks in Oregon – channelling their pioneer spirit – led change with creative problem solving and passionate activism. This leadership in thought still informs the state’s relationship with cutting-edge (by North American standards, anyway) sustainability practices.
Developing 20 minute neighbourhoods. This is urban planning leadership at its best. The objective of The Portland Plan (see “hot-spot” map) is to allow its citizens to access pretty much everything – food, entertainment, green space, health services, educational resources, the best craft beer you’ve ever had – within 20 minutes of walking or cycling or taking transit (more or less, as this isn’t an exact science). Here’s what the plan says about the above map: “This mapping analysis highlights areas that have relatively good, walkable access to commercial services and amenities. It indicates locations that have concentrations of commercial services that are within relatively short walking distance of homes. Besides taking into account the availability of grocery stores and other commercial services, it takes into account factors that impact pedestrian access, such as sidewalks, street connectivity, and topography.” Pretty great, right? Such a unique focus on urban development is being analysed and adopted by cities all around North America, which tends to happen when communities pioneer innovative, efficient and elegant ideas.
How to Lead Like a Pioneer
There are a number of lessons we can draw from these examples when crafting our own philosophy around leading like a pioneer.
Pioneers, more often than not, get there first (this is to say that many settlers got to Oregon before other would-be-settlers – there were already a lot of people living in the place by the time white folks showed up). This could mean that you beat competitors to investors or the marketplace with your great idea, or it could mean that you’re the first person to bring an existing idea to your workplace, team or neighbourhood.
Cliché or not, pioneers are also known for their work ethic – hewing their community (a more dramatic writer might say “their existence”) from the wilderness around them. Consequently, whatever you decide to pioneer needs to embody the kind of work ethic that has become the stuff of legend…and the narrative for The Oregon Trail.
Most importantly, pioneers are risk takers. Think of an idea, strategy, plan, program, innovation, or product that you’ve been itching to launch – are you nervous? Well, try getting nervited (nervous + excited = nervited) about how you will build, test, analyze, and launch your great idea in a way that realizes its potential.
Masthead photo courtesy of zion fiction’s photostream on Flickr
I am a poet, storyteller, performer, photographer, and long-time journal writer. I am the founder of the Centre for Loving Inquiry, where I facilitate individual and group mentoring programs, retreats and home-study courses for people who want to bring more creativity and compassion into their lives. The practice of Loving Inquiry supports us to open our hearts and to engage with more kindness and curiousity toward ourselves and others.
I also work as the program facilitator for the Connecting Generations Program, which creates opportunities for conversation and learning between high school students, youth, adults and elders in the Salt Spring Island community.
I am the host of Love in the Afternoon, a radio show that walks listeners through the practice of Loving Inquiry, and encourages them to live with more creativity and compassion (on Salt Sprig Radio, CFSI 107.9FM or www.cfsi-fm.com online).
I am also the author of a book of poetry, Weaving of My Being and a poetry CD, Love is Like This. To learn more about my work visit www.ahavashira.com/
I write, do yoga, walk in nature, hang out with my Goddess-son, listen to all kinds of music, host my radio show, make raw truffles, watch movies with my partner, play in a collage journal, read novels and non-fiction books on relationships, work and spirituality, sip tea in cafes and have wonderfully deep conversations with friends and clients.
The human and more-than-human community because I am intrigued and delighted by our interconnectedness. I live on a farm and find joy and refuge in nature’s variety and beauty. I also love listening to people’s stories and learning about the diverse ways they live.
I am present and alert when I am speaking or being with others and that makes me highly intuitive and a really good listener. I am also very good at improvisation: being willing to “not know” what’s going to happen, to stay open and to say yes to whatever emerges in the moment. I use these superpowers in my work as a writer, facilitator, mentor, radio show host and as a speaker and performer.
In my experience, we build community when we are kind and authentic and when we share our unique gifts and ways of being in the world. Through the Centre for Loving Inquiry, Connecting Generations and Love in the Afternoon, I am helping to create a world that honours the diversity and interdependence of all people and all beings. In my writing and teaching, I seek to relate to people with openness, empathy and compassion.
My Three Favourite Things About Ahava Are…
1. Entrepreneurial Spirit. I love the myriad ways that Ahava both engages and builds community; from hosting a radio show to truffle making, she is an absolute model as to how the practice of education can uniquely realize its potential. Ahava speaks with authenticity and positive energy that captivates audiences and clients in a one-on-one environment and her many projects reflect the passion with which she connects with her community.
2. Connecting Across Generations. The Connecting Generations Program is just fantastic! Our elders have so many stories to share and so much history that can, well, warn us about mistakes we might be repeating and, more importantly, inspire us to build a better and happier future. Connecting youth and elders represents an unfortunate gap in many communities, and it’s inspiring to see how Ahava and her team are creating and sustaining such an important connection.
3. Lovin’ the Creativity! Reading this interview simply makes me feel love and creativity. Such things radiate from Ahava. And this is a beautiful thing!
Last Friday evening I arrived home from work via bicycle with a few reusable bags of groceries in each hand, which caused me to use the elevator. As I shimmied my way inside, the door was held open for me by a kindhearted neighbour, Sonia (sp?), who had in her possession some nifty artwork. Naturally, I struck up a conversation about the piece and Sonia politely inquired about my ride home on such a nice day.
And then something unfortunate happened…
JOHN: “Could you please push the button for the second floor? Thanks, Sonia”
SONIA: “Second floor, eh? So, are you new to the building?”
JOHN: “Nope, my wife and I have lived here for about a year and a half now. You?”
SONIA: “Yeah, I’ve been here for about the same amount of time.”
[INSERT SHARED AWKWARD MOMENT HERE.]
JOHN: “Well…nice to meet you, Sonia.”
[Both make disappointed, semi-ashamed eye-contact and nod goodbye.]
This problematic encounter, I imagine, is an all too common scene within apartment buildings around Vancouver. Sure, I – like most people in this city – are super-polite and very friendly to my neighbours; however, only one other person in my building has actually entered Michelle and my apartment and I regretfully don’t go deep enough in my encounters with neighbours.
This case gets more interesting – perhaps a bit confounding – as the people in our building are supercool folks, which Michelle and I have learned during two strata meetings. There are Inventors, members of the film industry, an Operations Manager for YVR, a Somali Pirate, Yoga Instructors, a Manager of a Mr. Lube franchise, Mr. Lube, Kevin Quinlan, an Actress, a Health Promotion Project Manager, a Comedian, two Welders, and the couple next to Michelle and I who have nicer tomatoes than we do (no envy, we’re just impressed).
I mean, who wouldn’t want to have meaningful conversations with these fine folks?!
Basically, here are three options on which I would love your feedback as I move forward this my quest to build community within my apartment building:
- Knock on everyone’s door and introduce myself. PRO: this is probably the most efficient way to get to know my community. CON: this is probably the most efficient way to annoy and/or alienate my community.
- Throw a festive holiday party for the building. PRO: who doesn’t love parties?! CON: our building lacks a shared community space, so we would either have to cram 35+ people into one unit and/or host the event in the back alley (for the record, neither of these things are “cons” from my perspective, but I live in a world where they are not deemed “acceptable”).
- Borrow ideas from 1990s sitcoms. PRO: the “holiday candy” episode of Friends and the “photographs and kiss hello” episode of Seinfeld were both great in their own way; further, superficial community-connections were definite outcomes of these plot lines. CON: in Friends the community rebelled and aggressively demanded that Monica make more candy, much to hilarious chagrin of the show’s most shrill character; in Seinfeld, Jerry’s refusal to kiss hello results in the vandalism of his photo on the community wall as well as his being shunned by several members of the people in his building (although this problem doesn’t come up again within the Seinfeld universe…).
Speaking of community, Gumbooteers, what do you think of these options? What are other suggestions that you have for building community within apartment buildings?
As our world becomes more dense and urbanized, building positive and productive communities in smaller and smaller urban spaces will be of tremendous importance. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and knock on some doors.
Editors’ note: Kurt and John are firm believers that Vancouver can and should be the Canadian epicenter for growing the sport and culture of
soccer football soccer. This is a self-described healthy community. We can play outside year-round, as fields are rarely closed due to snow and/or freezing. And, most importantly, Vancouver is the place to expertly develop the sport of soccer because our city’s team, Vancouver Whitecaps FC, shares this goal and so demonstrates this vision through its Club Structure and the Whitecaps Foundation, which aims to create the fittest generation of BC Youth by 2020.
As Vancouver Whitecaps FC season ticket holders, Kurt and John are well-positioned to evaluate how the franchise showcases its commitment to “be a significant community asset” – so, following every match we will reflect on this commitment by answering two questions, which are below. Sometimes we bring friends and/or family-members to the game. And sometimes those awesome friends and/or family-members write awesome blog posts about the experience.
On July 18 the ‘Caps tied the LA Galaxy 2-2. On July 22 the ‘Caps defeated San Jose 2-1.
#winning #drawing against David Beckham and #winning against an MLS’s best team, the San Jose Earthquakes. BC Place was packed for both games, and the match against the LA Galaxy was sold out – had the ‘Caps not played to strikingly well, many of the casual fans who came to see His Royal Underwearness (rather than their home team) would have been very unlikely to return for another home game against, say, Real Salt Lake, FC Dallas, or another an MLS team from a tier-two American city with no almost-washed-up English Premier League stars on their roster.
As it turns out, putting a quality product on the field is a great way to demonstrate how the club is a significant community asset. Look, anytime David Beckham misses a free kick from this close it’s a beautiful thing:
WHAT COULD MAKE THE CLUB AN EVEN BETTER ASSET?
Destroy the spirit and will of referee-pushing Olympic turnaway David Beckham and his heels of teammates Donovan and Keane by beating them by a significant margin in front of more than 20,000 people, many of whom are not ‘Caps fans but will attend the match to experience the tour de force* that is The Beckham Show.
I’ve done the maths; a crushing victory over the Galaxy will secure at least 362 multi-game fans for the 2013 season and 73 season ticket holders for 2014.
For a sports club, being a significant community asset is, after all, about #winning.