It was about 22 years ago that Kayla and I settled into our lives in Marquette. I have many stories in that first year about the adjustments and surprises associated with winter, but of all notable things, perhaps the most enduring was the “little platoons,” that we discovered in Marquette. I was hard pressed to find people who weren’t engaged in some remarkable way of advancing their community. There were scout leaders, sports associations, beautification committees, capital campaigns, event committees, churches engaged in ministries, just so many people leading in so many different ways. That Fall I was part of an organizing group to study the future of economic development locally, and I remember a local guy entering the meeting and saying “here we are again, the same dozen people who make everything happen.” That had not been my experience in the two months that I called Marquette home.
David Brooks has launched the Weave Project through the Aspen Institute. I think that this 22 year-old vignette captures the story of two worlds:
~ There is a world of waiting for solutions and expecting leaders to impart change.
~ There is a contrasting world of those who put heart and soul into making their part of the world, better for their having been there.
That early glimpse of a diffuse and broad leadership continues to be a staple of Marquette but also many other communities that I have had the opportunity to observe, sporting new ways and new initiatives peeling off regularly.
Causes Larger Than Yourself
I think there are many places in America filled with “little platoons,” advancing the character and the quality of their community, supported by leaders everywhere you look. There are many others where there is less advancement as people wait for leaders or someone else. I think that the former communities look beyond what someone is (title), and focus on who someone is and their willingness to share in a task or make things happen.
One example was former Indiana Senator and recent National Security Advisor Dan Coats. During my Indianapolis days we held a weatherization event that involved 1,000 volunteers. We would invite people to come and kick off the event, and Dan Coats and his wife would come to work. They were amazing models of not being settled into what you are, in his case United States Senator, and instead sharing who he was, someone who would give up half a day to help people be warmer in winter.
Look Around You and Find the View
I once asked Mary Houghton: were there any statistics or data that would predict if a community is to become entrepreneurial? She said only one, “are there models, where someone sees someone who looks like them making money.” So I think that is a parallel idea among “weavers” and “platoons” is the necessity of having a climate of diffuse leadership that makes trying possible and that breeds others to try. And in the end, it is the little platoons and weavers that make for extraordinary quality of life.
Here are some books that have influenced my thinking:
Healing the Heart of Democracy
The Company of Strangers
Knowing as we are Known
The Second Mountain
–Dennis West, President