Turn down the volume, be part of the solution

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  • Penny C. McBride
    Penny C. McBride
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When I was 20-something, a person I very much admired professionally asked me to accompany him on a day trip to look at some developing tourism products of interest to us both.

I was excited by what we would see and who we may meet, but I mostly looked forward to having some uninterrupted time with this well-known industry expert who was always a gracious mentor to me.

He was great at asking insightful questions and almost without realizing it, I spent more than an hour of our drive time telling him about my frustration with finding funding for my work. He is also a thoughtful listener, rarely interrupting other than to ask even more questions.

When I had said my peace, it was his turn. To my surprise, he told me that I could continue to whine and live within the current confines which were unlikely to change, or I could get off my (I’ll say bum) and create my own rules. It was not the answer I expected

It was not the answer I expected and for a while we rode in silence. He probably thought I was pouting, and maybe for a moment I was. As a young leader, it had never occurred to me to change the narrative. To turn away from that which was immovable and create an alternative that could be won. Soon, my brain was on fire.

I finally broke the silence by asking, “Like what?” I will never forget his warm smile and a small wink when he affectionately replied, “You tell me!”

The rest of our drive time was spent brainstorming ideas, using his expertise to pepper the conversation with lots of “what ifs” and “whys” to push my thinking and help me assess possibilities. Truth be told, I was never completely successful in finding a whole new funding mechanism for my work. What I gained that day was far more valuable.

Individually and as a society, we are living in frustrating times with broad layers of raw and ugly tension beyond what many (maybe even any) of us have experienced before. There is a noisiness to the world, that to me sounds rather deafening, but we have to hear it as a collective call to action.

First, I think we have to figure out how to turn down the volume to a manageable level. For me, it means filtering out that which is only noise from that which is personably actionable. I find no value in being a faceless social media keyboard warrior. In fact, my greatest sadness in times of societal challenge is the effort we waste in this pointless and gutless space. If I care enough about something to comment on it, I should care enough to commit my time, money and passion to creating a new, winning path forward.

As a kid, whenever I would complain about something to my father, he would say, “Don’t be part of the problem, unless you are willing to be part of the solution.”

What do you want to change? What are you willing to commit? How can you make that happen? Do you have a better idea? Whose help do you need? How will you get them on board?

The year 2020 has presented us with plenty of problems. Let’s shift from the noise-making to at least asking the questions and thoughtfully listening to each other to get to the solutions.

McBride is the president and CEO of the Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce.