Column: Giving new ideas a chance is a key to continued vitality

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 16, 2002

One of the ways I know I am &uot;different&uot; is my habit of embracing unconventional ideas. I didn’t grow up in any of the places I’ve lived as an adult, so I don’t know the &uot;traditional&uot; ways of talking to people or getting things done. When we lived in one small town I didn’t know that helping to create a preschool in our church wasn’t normal. But the preschool made a difference and continues to thrive many years later. When living in another small town I didn’t know that public officials weren’t supposed to be asked to justify their decisions via newspaper columns. I did it anyway. Things happened.

So I get impatient when new ideas are only given brief consideration and frustrated when people ignore suggestions that are &uot;different.&uot; Hearing the phrase &uot;but we’ve never done that before&uot; has long lost its charm, for me and for many others.

It’s not that outsiders dislike the people who live here, and hate their traditions. We liked the place enough to move here, after all. But we do live here now, and have a right to be taken seriously in debates and discussions about the future of this place. Insisting on the same old routine without even giving new ways a decent chance is not healthy.

Email newsletter signup

In fact, I would even go so far as to state the obvious: Doing things the way they’ve always been done, always going back to the same ideas, is one of the reasons that Freeborn County is slowly perishing. Responding to the changes in the world outside our boundaries requires the ability to see the potential in what we have without requiring us to keep everything exactly the way it is.

Lately I’ve become impatient with the Freeborn County commissioners. First they expressed reluctance towards even exploring the need for mass transit in the county. They won’t financially support a plan that would help develop a countywide transportation system. But what about the many elderly wanting to continue living in their own homes and the families with children living in the country because affordable housing in town is so scarce? Are all the people who can’t or don’t want to drive their own cars all the time just supposed to move somewhere else?

Then I read that the commissioners want to pull out of the Blazing Star Trail project. It isn’t even as if the county was going to great expense or effort to help with that project in the first place. Their reluctance to support the recreational trail struck me as especially ironic as I was packing our bikes onto the car for our vacation in a place with a recreation trail.

Both a countywide transit system and a hard surface recreation trail strike me as part of the infrastructure of a community worth living in, one with a high &uot;quality of life&uot; for residents. But then, as I’ve already noted, my imagination hasn’t been molded by the customs and traditions of this place. Unfortunately, some of the &uot;habits&uot; of the people in this place can get in the way of making a positive difference in the community.

For example, discarding any idea that looks like it will cost even a few extra bucks is a pessimistic way of looking at the future. Over and over I’ ve heard the whining of people who seem to believe that the steady erosion of the quality of life in this county is inevitable. Since things are only going to get worse, why should we support music and art programs in our school districts or build a new courthouse? Let’s just cut the budget again or throw some more band-aids on our problems.

Sometimes it’s almost as if we’re being asked to participate in a funeral for the whole community, long before the place is actually dead.

It’s time to step outside the coffin of conventional thinking and dare to risk doing things a little differently. If we want people to live here and raise families, we need a community that is hopeful about the future, and is willing to maintain the infrastructure that makes a high quality of life possible.

Public transit and a recreation trail may seem like little things to some, but the county’s response to them so far shows me that the thinking that will bring a better future for this county just isn’t there yet.

David Rask Behling is a rural Albert Lea resident. His column appears Tuesdays.