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Stutzman: Ending acceptance of mediocrity

September 3, 2012
Mary Beth Stutzman - Inspiring A-Town , The Alpena News

Since my husband and I cancelled cable TV we've found a new appreciation for Netflix documentaries (call us nerds, it's OK). A few weeks ago I was pleasantly surprised when I selected a documentary called "The Perfect Cappuccino."

It was late, my husband was traveling for work and I was looking for something mindless so my brain could unwind from the stress of the day. As expected, the story started out with the history and proper making of a cappuccino drink. But, as the woman researched further, her travels led her to uncover much more than correct milk steaming procedures. It turned out to be an intriguing essay on American culture and how our widespread acceptance of mediocrity has led to our disadvantage.

How do you get a cultural essay from a cup of coffee? It was interesting. The woman studied abroad in Italy and fell in love with the coffee drink. When she came back to the States she couldn't find cappuccino that tasted as good as what she experienced in Italy. She wanted to know why Americans couldn't make anything as good and this led her to create the documentary.

To give you the Cliff Notes version, she found that Americans' love of convenience, instant gratification, and familiarity has led to a decline in the authentic quality of many products and services we have in the States. In all honesty, we know that coffee drinks from Starbucks aren't all that fantastic. But, no matter what Starbucks we walk into, whether it be in Michigan or Iowa, we know what we're getting. Same is true of fast food. We know it's loaded with preservatives and the hamburgers don't taste like real hamburger. However, we keep buying them because we know that from one franchise to the next we will get the same consistent version of a so-so hamburger. It eliminates the risk and guesswork.

For so many of us, we've been programmed to accept inferior versions of products and services in an effort to feed our need for instant and consistent indulgence. So much so that many of us have forgotten about the "real thing" or don't believe we deserve it.

After watching this documentary I was inspired and started thinking about how these concepts relate to Northeast Michigan. How often do we agree to substandard services and pass them off as acceptable? I recently discussed the opening of a new establishment in town with someone who described the place as, "For Alpena it's great; anywhere else it would be just OK." How many times have we heard, or even made similar statements ourselves? I'll be the first to admit that I have in the past.

In so many ways we've allowed ourselves to create and accept the inferior and chalk it up to, "Well it's Alpena, it will never happen here," or "It's good enough; for Alpena." We accept this false notion that Alpena isn't worthy. We have invaluable resources and assets yet we continue to collectively operate under the premise that our community doesn't have a lot to offer or that we don't deserve nice things.

If you wipe the sleep out of your eyes you'll see that we've got a pretty good thing going on here in Northeast Michigan. We are not a watered-down version of an Americanized Italian coffee drink. We are unique. As I mentioned in a previous column, our community's founders discovered Paradise on earth in Northeast Michigan.

Let's lift Alpena up.

How? It starts with you the individual citizen. It starts with how you speak to others in your everyday lives. It starts with how we talk to visitors in our community. It starts with how we interact within the business setting. Mediocrity is perpetuated by acceptance. Once we stop accepting things of the substandard, we find ourselves in a better place.

Would you like to join me on this movement to enhance our community? Would you like to make a difference that will ripple through future generations? Would you like to help eliminate thoughtless acceptance of the substandard and mediocre?

If so, then join the Inspiring A-Town community-building crusade. It's easy. Eliminate negativity from your vocabulary. Visit the Inspiring A-Town Facebook page for ideas and discussion on how to make a difference in our community. And above all else, share what you love about Northeast Michigan with everyone you know.

Alpena is a perfect cup of cappuccino.

Mary Beth Stutzman's Inspiring A-Town runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays.



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