Last week, I was fortunate enough to join my colleagues here at the Community Foundation, including our CEO Roxie Jerde, in a resonant and fulfilling discussion of the profound ideas put forward by Rich Harwood in his book Stepping Forward. This first meeting of our book circle, an initiative graciously made possible by The Patterson Foundation, coincided perfectly with the year’s end; a time when most people pause to reflect and develop resolutions for the new year ahead. In his book, Harwood includes a section entitled “A Reflection” in which he urges his readers to be “here” to face and attempt to tackle society’s challenges. Harwood’s message about acknowledging our obligation to convene, listen, and work with the diverse people who make up our communities guided our conversation to some remarkable discoveries.
One distinct feature of our group that provided an opportunity to hear diverse perspectives and grapple with opposing paradigms was that it included individuals from several different generational groups. Thanks to viral memes and recent news articles, we are all too aware that there is friction between people from different generational groups. However, these differences served to make Harwood’s message resonate even louder and clearer for us. As we contemplated Harwood’s reference to “here,” younger colleagues were quick to point out that defining “here” is even more challenging at a time when many people prefer to “congregate” in virtual communities through a variety of social media sites rather than gathering in physical spaces like a downtown or a community center. Colleagues from the older generations were tempted to lament the loss of physical spaces but by listening to their younger colleagues conceded that virtual activism often inspired community members to come together physically in protest or in support of a cause.
We realized that this conversation proved to be an example of what Harwood urges in his book. Rather than dividing us, we let our generational differences serve as discussion points and moments of opportunity. Our collective willingness to listen to each other, as Harwood encourages, allowed us to embrace a new perspective.
In addition to his message encouraging us all to be present and confront our differences, Harwood also posits, “More than anything, people want a sense of possibility and hope—to believe that tomorrow can be better than today.” As the first discussion of our Community Foundation book circle came to an end, we all felt a sense of hope and possibility. Gathering together, encouraging open dialogue, and reflecting allowed us to develop a resolution to look outward and recognize our duty to tackle the challenges that face our community.