Publication Note: This column was first published in the September 13, 2017 edition of the Lonoke County Democrat weekly newspaper, linked HERE in its original format. It is the 20th installment of the “Look at Lonoke” column.
When I think about Lonoke, I think about the possibility that is embodied in our town and within the people who call this place home. Walking down Front and Center Streets, I see opportunities for investment, and space for growth and innovation. Our historic buildings represent a blank canvas for new ideas to find life. In this way, Lonoke resembles numerous other rural communities. As we discussed in previous editions of this column, Lonoke can learn from the experience demonstrated by other regional examples how a town’s unique character may be leveraged for renewal and growth.
And yet, in our current state, there are realities all around us to be recognized. It would be neglectful to simply espouse an idealistic future without acknowledging the truth of our present condition. For if we are to undertake the challenging task of implementing good ideas, we must have a clear understanding of the obstacles that lie in our path of achievement. The dream and the challenge go hand-in-hand.
While we must have the courage and clarity to name those realities and the determination to address them, we must also have the discernment to perceive the unique things which contribute to the character of our community and preserve them for future purpose and appreciation. In fact, that future may be closer than we think. I believe that Lonoke’s time for action is now. The people of Lonoke have spent more than a year in a transparent, respectful conversation about ideas. Those ideas now comprise a vision, and it is time to implement that vision.
In living with the status quo for an extended period of time, it is natural that we eventually overlook certain existing conditions, until we no longer perceive them. A clear vision, however, can be the catalyst to address these realities with renewed energy and conviction. In the same way in which we prepare our homes when we have company coming over, this new sense of urgency may provide the motivation to see the existing conditions in our community with fresh eyes.
Our vision now provides that urgency. I believe that defiant optimism is our fuel for implementing that vision.
A friend and mentor of mine gently reminds me periodically that optimism must be tempered with the wisdom of experience. He recently mailed to me a feature from Progressive Farmer magazine that highlighted the words of a number of historic figures on the subject of optimism. The wide-ranging backgrounds and perspectives of these women and men is fascinating, and a few key thoughts stand out to me. In particular, Helen Keller’s words are impactful, considering that her life is the embodiment of an overcoming spirit. Keller writes, “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”
So, the balance point that enables us to maximize our potential, is to inform our process moving forward with evaluated experience. This is where I believe that Lonoke is at an advantage. We have the blessing of living in an intergenerational community, where those who have faced challenges before us are now investing in the next generation’s potential. Further, if we undertake the current task in front of us for the benefit of the students and children who are still in our care, then we maximize the potential of this moment in Lonoke’s history.
I have had the opportunity to spend time at Lonoke High School recently speaking with students in Mrs. Wicker’s EAST Lab about their upcoming semester projects. In these visits, numerous students have stood out who see the potential within themselves and their friends to have a direct impact on their community. What if we combined the technology mastered by Lonoke’s students with the experience and encouragement of a hopeful group of leaders who have invested in their success? The reality is, when we team with our students to inspire meaningful efforts today, the Lonoke of their future will be a visible, attractive, and connected community to which they may eventually return and invest themselves.
Sociologist B.J. Thompson writes, “The less gratitude we express, the more our cynicism grows.” I would suggest that Lonoke’s biggest obstacle is not our current conditions, or even the fractured promises of our past. Perhaps our largest and most constant challenge is the defeat of cynicism. When we choose to have faith in one another, we are simultaneously choosing to reject cynicism.
You see, we are going to invest in something. Our incremental deposits over time will have a cumulative effect, as Andy Stanley espouses. This is true for both our positive and negative actions. Apathy and cynicism accumulate with consequence in the same way that our strategic actions do. The difference is, one denies a future for others, while the other creates a future. Our action today has a direct effect on the legacy of our community. If we choose to invest in the human capital of our students and children, our return on investment will be exponential.
Students who are in the eighth grade today will graduate in May 2022. The Lonoke of five years from now will be the direct result of our faith and the work we begin today to implement a new vision on their behalf. Optimism will be our fuel. Intergenerational investment will be our distinct advantage.
Walk down the tree-lined streets of Lonoke and be willing to see with fresh, thankful eyes. You may then begin to perceive the very real need that has been historically overlooked in our community, but also the distinct, urgent opportunity to address that need with intentional investment. Invest in the dreams and ideas of your neighbors. Invest in others. Follow the model of my mentor, who has chosen to invest in a new generation of leaders, believing in the potential of those who follow.
Ryan Biles is a local architect who leads the Downtown Lonoke Support Committee, a recently formed committee of the Lonoke Area Chamber of Commerce. View past editions of this column at www.lookatlonoke.com .