If you have driven south on US-23, you know that you pass through several communities along the way. While driving through those communities on a recent trip to Lansing, I was reminded of different comments people had made to me throughout the years that compared our community to others. Why can't we have a streetscape like that community? Why doesn't our downtown look like theirs? How can we get lighting like they have along their sidewalks? Why can't our businesses stay open as late as theirs?
Although these questions are healthy and help us set goals and visions for our community, sometimes I think these comparisons overshadow something else. It seems that we forget that people from other communities look at our community and wonder why their community can't be like ours. I am not making that up. I have a friend in the chamber business in another northern Michigan community who recently mentioned a comment from one of her board members about something she should do more like Alpena. It happens more often than you might think.
There is a concept in the study of communication that explains the ways in which we form perceptions of ourselves. One of the ways we do that is through comparisons with others. For example, as students we compare test results to see how we stack up in class. In our careers we compare ourselves to others who are in similar positions to see how we are performing as an employee in that position. Business owners compare their businesses to those of our competitors to make sure we are in line with the trends. Parents often compare their children to others' kids to form perceptions of their parenting skills. We do the same thing for our community, and we are often quite hard on ourselves when doing it. We seem to identify what we wish we were instead of seeing what we are already are, or already have.
When we use these comparisons often and begin to focus more on what we lack instead of the ways we shine, it impacts our perception of our community. It is important not to lose sight of the fact that others appreciate our community in ways we appreciate other communities. Although we have room for growth and improvement, we also need to appreciate our own bright spots that are the envy of others.
Just like people, communities have strengths and weaknesses. And learning to appreciate and expand your strengths while acknowledging and improving your weaknesses is important to growth. Sometimes we need to consciously remind ourselves of those great things about ourselves and our community so we aren't devoured by thoughts of what we aren't and what we want to be. Focusing on what we don't have is a significant roadblock to growth. Recognizing and investing in our bright spots is a great way to grow.
Comparisons don't just happen here. They happen with every community, I promise. But let's make sure we see both the comparisons that lead us to feel good about what we have as well as the comparisons that lead us to explore new ideas for our community. We need to recognize both. The next time you find yourself saying, "I wish we had ...," or, "Wouldn't it be nice for our community if ...," follow it up with another statement that goes something like, "But I'm so glad we do have ..." or, "It's great to live in a community that is ..." Recognizing both is a much healthier place to be.
Jackie Krawczak is the executive director of the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce. Her column appears bi-weekly on Tuesdays.