In many ways, life is what we make it. We can’t control our circumstances, but we can control our perspective, and controlling our perspective gives us a hand in shaping our own reality.
That’s why I’ve been sorry to see a lot of negativity about Fort Wayne on social media lately. As a moderator of The Journal Gazette’s social networks, I’ve heard people vent about the city on sites like Facebook and Twitter in response to the stories we share.
Two of the most consistent complaints I hear are about spending money on downtown development with projects like the Ash Skyline Plaza and complaints about the city’s homicide rate making it a dangerous place to live.
Even though there are valid opinions behind both of these beliefs, having the same negative conversations online isn’t doing anything to produce positive change. Actually, it’s sending us down a spiral of negativity that’s limiting what’s possible here.
If we want to see positive change and a better future in Fort Wayne, we need to understand a process called appreciative inquiry, created by a guy named David Cooperrider.
When Cooperrider was a 24-year-old doctoral student in the 1980s, he was analyzing organizations and consulting companies to help identify areas for improvement. But when he was assigned to analyze the Cleveland Clinic, he realized that asking the organization about its failures only brought that organization’s failures to the front of its workers’ minds and limited their potential. It didn’t inspire curiosity, attachment or a will to do something about the issues. It created cynicism.
So Cooperridder’s supervising professor advised him to ditch the negativity altogether and focus only on the positive examples of cooperation and teamwork that were already occurring in the organization.
When he did, something incredible happened. The clinic recognized and appreciated what was already working well, and its employees suddenly were inspired with solutions in the areas that were lacking.
Organizations do not need to be fixed, Cooperrider concluded. They need constant reaffirmation.
It’s a lesson that translates well to our city as we span the gap between where we are today and where we want to be. If we want to see positive growth and change in the direction of our dreams, we need to have positive conversations that recognize our strengths and open our minds to opportunities.
When we look at big-money projects like the Ash Skyline, we can see a waste of resources, or we can see an opportunity to build excitement about what’s happening downtown. We can see neglect of the city at large, or we can see another reason talent will come to our area.
Being positive isn’t about ignoring negative news. We can’t ignore issues, such as the shootings around town. But instead of asking: What is wrong with Fort Wayne to cause these problems? let’s ask: What does it look like to make things right here? What does a safer and stronger community look like, and how can we move toward that positive image?
If we take time to see what’s already working well for us, such as the thriving baseball stadium downtown and the My Brother’s Keeper program at Imani Baptist Temple to address violent crimes on the city’s southeast side, we might find there is more good than we would have guessed.
So before you make another negative comment, I challenge you to take a positive approach to voicing your opinions. Fort Wayne will only be what we make it, and if we seek solutions from a positive perspective, we’ll find more solutions that offer real opportunities.
As Cooperrider said, To a far greater extent than is normally acknowledged, we human beings create our own realities.
Let’s create something positive.