Thursday, February 2, 2017

Context, Connection and Loyalty

One of my favorite aunts often said of our community, "if you fart, everyone knows about it." Venango County is a very close knit community. It's rural but it's not easy to hide here. Little is hidden. The transparency, exposure, connectedness, can be daunting.  A fart may go unnoticed in a larger space, but here it can become a point of reference.
Context and connections run deep and they run far. You could be sitting in a restaurant and mention a person's name in conversation believing that it's only heard by those in your booth. At a table nearby, unknown to you, is that person's cousin or uncle or best friend. Their radar is up. I've experienced that on both sides of the table.
Loyalties build over time. Context and connections run deep and they run far. To succeed in this community requires a longer list of references than the list of accomplishments on the resume. And you don't choose the references. The references come from anyone with whom you have had connection - in THIS community. You could have worked for the President of the United States and still be viewed with suspicion here. The first question would be "if you worked for the President, why did you need to come here?"
Local context and connections are most significant. As a community we struggle with that culture. We want new and fresh ideas but we are steeped in the need for building loyalty over time. The positive part of that is requiring a long term, collaborative vision. Loyalties build with time. Once built and developed they are difficult to break. It's about sustainability. Much comes and goes. Many new ideas have failed. Likely they failed because of the culture that demands context, connection and loyalty.
Like the river that runs through it, our community changes its path very slowly. We need voices that push progress. We need voices that offer greater vision. If you are one of those voices, build. Your power lies in your ability to create context and connections. Create local references that can help.
At times it may feel like you are paddling the boat upstream. Don't shoot at the other paddlers. Recognize and become a champion of those who are paddling in the same direction. You can build context and connection there. Loyalty is found there. Loyalty will be shared there.
Don't fart in public. One of my other favorite aunts would say, "if you have to fart, go to the bathroom". It's best to assume that every criticism you make is public. That's a public fart. That criticism will be shared. Context and connections run deep.
Build the context. Build the connections. Build the references. Loyalty follows.
It's a marathon, not a sprint. And once context, connections and loyalty are built, they are stronger than steel. There may still be trying times and moments of frustration but wait it out. It bridges unbelievable divides and is worth the efforts.

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