Do you know what the most commonly asked question is at any of my talks? It’s always about dealing with the negative people, the people who say you can’t, the roadblocks. Jack Schultz calls them the CAVE people: the Citizens Against Virtually Everything.
I find that encouraging and discouraging all in one. It’s encouraging because people want to do something better in their town. It’s discouraging because they are being stopped.
So what can you do? From years of experience, I offer these two answers:
1. You aren’t alone. Realize that every town has CAVE people and that no matter how bad yours are, some towns are worse than yours.
2. Go around them. If they are stopping you from doing exactly what you want to do, then go wider around them. Find a way to do part of what you want to do.
But I’m thinking I’ll start giving a third answer.
3. Change the trajectory of your community.
That’s a tall order, isn’t it? I mean, it’s not your fault that people are like that, and how are you supposed to change them anyway.
Well, you’re not. But you can do something to change the tone, and ultimately the trajectory.
1. Follow the classic advice on How to Build Community.
There is this classic poster that’s been around for decades that shows a pretty urban neighborhood and includes a whole long list of ways to build community: “Turn off your TV… Leave your house…. Play together…. Pick up litter… Dance in the street… Bake extra and share.”
Sounds like a small town, doesn’t it? Your town probably does some of these things. Most of this is stuff all small towns used to do very well, but most of us really don’t do that much anymore. If you want to change the tone of your community, forget the CAVE people for today and get outside to do some community building.
The list was written by the Syracuse Cultural Workers. (You can still buy the poster here.)
2. Be a Citizen Placemaker.
Placemaking, for my purpose today, is about how you use public spaces: streets, sidewalks, parks, the town square, and so on. The Project for Public Spaces says, “It may take years to turn a grassy lot into a great square, but you can start today by simply mowing the lawn and inviting your neighbors out for a picnic.” Read more about citizen placemaking here.
I want to talk more about Placemaking later. But for right now, step outside. Organize a picnic. Make May Day baskets for your neighbors’ doors. Find a way to do something to push your community on a better trajectory.
When I featured this message in the email newsletter last week, I received several emails back.
Lance Cummins, of Nectafy, said, “That was REALLY good. Thanks for sharing.”
New reader Debbi Rodden, said, “Thanks Becky. Love your newsletters! And calling them CAVE people is just PERFECT! LOL Cheers from Australia.”
I also received this longer email from Bill Hudson, and I received his permission to share it here.
Thanks for keeping us on your email list. We’ve re-printed a few of your thoughtful articles here in our small town in Colorado, and we find them useful to get people thinking.
This recent piece, about the CAVE people, certainly got me thinking. As you note, every town has its “NO” people. What some people don’t seem to realize is that “negative people” are a crucial part of any decision-making process. Although Jack Schultz may not value them, I have personally found them incredibly important and worthy of everyone’s attention.
In a small town, we usually find decisions being made by “entrepreneurial types.” These high-energy people — often business owners — are full of positive energy, and they’re typically accustomed to making decisions without really consulting anyone outside their immediate circle of friends.
The CAVE people, as you refer to them, offer a balance to the DECISION people by raising questions… sometimes very intelligent questions. They slow down the decision-making process that is being rushed forward by the DECISION people, so that the rest of us can have time to consider the issues and speak up, before it’s too late and the money has been spent (sometimes foolishly, and sometimes ineffectively.)
Checks and balances. It’s a crucial part of a democracy. The CAVE people provide that balance in a small town. We shouldn’t be trying to “get around them”. We should be “listening to them”, because they might have something important to say. Often, it’s something we don’t want to hear, but it might save us a lot of pain in the future.
Please add your own thoughts and reactions in the comments.
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