It’s a Matter of Choices

By Doug Griffiths, President & CEO

I am not sure if this problem is about people not knowing what they want, or about simply not being willing to make a choice between two desirable but conflicting outcomes. Regardless, the consequences look the same: a person who doesn’t know what they want and one who refuses to make a choice, either get nothing or what fate hands them, in the end. Everything in life is about choices. Not making a choice means that nothing changes, and nothing gets better.

You can choose to have money in the bank, or you can choose to have nice things, but most people can’t afford to have a lot of both. You can choose to be really smart, you can choose to be really fit, or you can choose to spend a lot of time with family, but for most of us there are simply not enough hours in the day available to devote ourselves to all three to the extent we would like. Life is about choices. Whenever you choose to focus on one thing, something else has to give in similar proportion. This applies to our lives, but it also applies to our communities.

I think the most striking example of someone not realizing they couldn’t have it all came just a few hours after I had released a rural community development report. I had traveled to hundreds of communities and interviewed hundreds of people over the course of two years. One person stood out to me. Her concern was typical of the people I met with, but she was an exceptionally passionate and loud spokesperson. She wanted the school to stay open. She wanted the hospital to remain open. She wanted businesses to make money, taxes to stay low, and services to continue to grow. I appreciated her vision.

I released my report. She was the second person who called me. She was angry about what I had written. One of my recommendations suggested the strain on urban centers could be alleviated if we allowed expanded health service options and opportunities in rural hospitals with so much extra capacity. I also thought it would enhance rural services and bring money out to rural communities. I thought that would be a great solution for healthcare and for community building, while we all waited years for an expensive new urban hospital to be built.

She called to specifically tell me that she didn’t want city people coming out to her rural community. New people would see how much less stressful and more peaceful rural life could be. Less traffic, less noise, less crime, small class sizes, less waiting for care. New people would see the amount of free space and affordable lots there were in her rural community. They would buy houses and crowd the place up, which would undo all the elements she loved about her community.

I was confused. I asked her, “How do you expect to keep the school open, the hospital open, the businesses successful, taxes low, and services expanding if you don’t attract new people to the community somehow? You can’t have it both ways.” There was a long silence and then she hung up. She realized she couldn’t have it both ways, but she didn’t want to think about that. She wanted both and the fact it couldn’t be done was an uncomfortable reality she didn’t want to address.

There are a lot of those types of mindsets that plague our communities and create challenges to those trying to make them successful. They want tourism dollars and community growth, but they don’t want new developments that will lead to more traffic, noise, or anything that will disturb naturally beautiful landscapes. Yet tourism is prone to develop around naturally beautiful landscapes. So, do you want community growth and tourism development, or nothing to disturb the tranquility. You can’t have both. You can trade off a little of one for another, but you cannot have all of both.

People want great new services and recreational infrastructure. Yet, they don’t want their taxes to go up and they don’t want to partner with other communities to provide shared services and infrastructure. In many small communities, the infrastructure is getting very old and needs to be replaced, and when it is replaced people often have higher expectations for what they want. They don’t just want an arena, they want a walking track, and a gym, a soccer field, and so on. Few small communities can afford to replace, and even fewer can afford to expand, infrastructure and services without either raising taxes considerably or working together to share the investments. You can’t have it all. What are you going to choose?

What you chose reflects your values. It is important to know what your community values, and what it doesn’t, so that you can make your choices and accept the results. Not recognizing your community’s future is about choices, is defaulting to fate and then failure. It is difficult to make choices, but your success depends on choosing what your community will become. If you need a hand to find your way through, give us a call. We know . . . There’s Always a Way.

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