I spend my days traveling from one American community to another. Some of them are bustling larger cities. Others are quiet small towns. What they all have in common is the burning desire to become more vibrant, prosperous, livable and loveable than they are right now. And as I work with these diverse groups of Americans, I see a theme that we might all heed as Independence Day approaches:
Those communities that work together, win together.
In communities where people come together, put their self-interest on the back burner and work as a team, things get done. In communities that don’t, nothing gets done. It’s really that simple.
While America is often proclaimed the land of rugged individualism, this is more myth than historical truth. Our ancestors settled down in small communities where they worked together, shared what they had and leaned on each other when times were tough.
And on the larger stage, our nation’s founders had to work together in a similar fashion when they decided to bring America into being. They were working toward independence as a new nation, but they had to rely on interdependence to get there.
Here are four big lessons we should all heed as we seek to move our communities toward vibrancy:
History Lesson #1: Our founders set aside their self-interests and created something that worked for everyone. Everyone was fired up to contribute to something bigger than themselves. They bought into the overarching mission, and weren’t bogged down by endless debate over the short-term costs to their plan of action.
Takeaway for Today: Don’t be overly concerned with your own wellbeing. Setting aside your own short-term best interests may accomplish far more for everyone in the long run.
History Lesson #2: They didn’t let ideological differences stop them from achieving something tangible. Despite bitter disputes and differences of opinion, a group of people with little in common other than their shared determination that change was needed were able to get mobilized and get something done.
Takeaway for Today: Know what matters. Don’t get bogged down by petty disputes about how things should get done and let it sabotage the greater task at hand.
History Lesson #3: They weren’t constantly trying to steal the spotlight from each other. Instead, they agreed to let someone else be “the one in charge.” The founders kept their focus on the ambitious mission/vision of standing up to one of the most powerful authorities in the world: the King of England.
Takeaway for Today: Don’t always try to make it about yourself, or worry that someone else is getting the spotlight. Keep the greater goal in mind and stay focused on that.
History Lesson #4: The founders didn’t wait on the government to “fix it.” Instead, they joined together and took bold action at the local level.
Takeaway for Today: Remember that citizen-powered change is the most powerful change. If it’s to be, it’s up to you and me, not government agencies.
We went through a period of time where we started to believe we didn’t need each other and that clearly isn’t true. Working together is the only way we can make our cities and towns thrive.
No one is saying America’s founders were perfect. They were far from it, as we are. But one thing they got right was the knowledge that they needed to work together for a common cause. Teamwork is a powerful force. We couldn’t have built a nation without it, and we can’t build a better community without it either.