Published first on the Progress News, August 30, 2021

Last week I shared the inspirational tale of a little town in Kentucky that has done well for itself through persistence, partnerships, and positive thinking.  On the one hand, it seems like these sorts of traits shouldn’t be all that remarkable – shouldn’t we all look on the bright side, join up with others for the common good, and remain steadfast in the face of challenges?  On the other hand…the tale of Greenville wouldn’t be particularly unusual or inspirational if that were the case, sadly.

I do believe that most communities, and most individuals within those communities, strive to do the right thing.  It can, however, get hard sometimes!  Daily life, especially at our modern, frantic pace, tends to leave us with not enough time, not enough patience, and not enough room for others.  It’s so common a challenge that Doug Griffiths, a former-politician-turned-community-developer, wrote a book about it: 13 Ways to Kill Your Community.

13 Ways is a tongue-in-cheek reminder of how easy it is to fall into unhelpful, even destructive habits, and it’s an amusing and valuable reality check for when a community might be wondering why they’re not enjoying the same success as towns like Greenville.  I encourage everyone to check out the book (there’s also a website, 13ways.ca, and an absolute mountain of partner sites and YouTube videos with info from the book), as the anecdotes the author shares really highlight the importance of NOT indulging in these sorts of behaviors and attitudes.

For the sake of discussion, however, I’ll summarize Griffiths’ brutally honest 13 Ways:

  1. Forget the importance of water;
  2. Don’t entice new businesses, especially if they may be competing with existing businesses;
  3. Don’t engage youth, or, even better, drive them away forever;
  4. Deceive yourself about the advantages and disadvantages of your community;
  5. Force people to shop elsewhere, and don’t shop at the local stores you do have;
  6. Don’t paint, don’t clean, don’t plant flowers, don’t make things pretty;
  7. Refuse to cooperate, or, even better, actively fight against the efforts of others;
  8. Live in the past and ignore, deny, resist, or hide from inevitable change;
  9. Ignore the wants, needs, and quality of life of seniors;
  10. Keep doing what you have always done and be short-sighted;
  11. Ignore newcomers, or, even better, make them feel excluded and different;
  12. Become complacent and seek to maintain the status quo;
  13. Blame every wrong and every challenge on someone else.

Some communities seem to be doing their best to nail every single one of these behaviors, and some only dip their toes into one or two from time to time.  But, inevitably, we ALL fall victim to negative thinking, selfishness, and a general lack of fortitude every now and then.  We’re none of us perfect.  The trick is to catch ourselves, check ourselves, and move forward in a better headspace.  As 13 Ways so clearly illustrates, anyone can kill their community if they only try hard enough.  Or save it and help it thrive.  The choice is up to each and every one of us.