Signs of Progress

Even now, after 39 years on this planet--the last 12 spent running a small business--I am surprised by the sometimes strong, bordering on vulgar, responses I get to what seem like straight-forward, common-sense situations.

One battle we used to have here was the regular request to send large quantities of back issues to various parts of the world as quickly as possible at our expense. When we tried to explain there was a charge for each copy, we sometimes got unprintable responses.

I would try to listen patiently and then ask them what they would do if I called them and demanded they send me their product for free?

Invariably, I would get some version of, “That’s different. Our product costs money to produce.”


It was maddening--kind of like the guy who gets mad at you because his 18-year-old son can’t play in a 30-and-over league or the patron who wants you to pay for a membership to another aquatic facility while the pool is closed for regularly scheduled maintenance.

At the beginning of my career, these types of confrontations really bothered me. I’d be in a funk for a day or two examining and re-examining all the “evidence” of the confrontation, trying to determine if I was at fault. I wanted to place blame and I wanted to make sure it would never, ever happen again.

But, you know what? The confrontations didn’t stop. One day it was somebody expecting back issues for free, the next it was somebody upset that we sent them too many sales leads.

Finally, I figured it out.

If you’re participating in life, if you’re making any effort at all, you will find yourself bumping up against other ideas, beliefs, values and processes and that can’t help but lead to confrontation. It turns out confrontation is not a negative, it’s a positive. It’s the lubricant of progress.

Once I recognized this simple truth, two things happened. First, these situations no longer stressed me out because they were no longer personal attacks. They were differences of opinions. And, I started to see these discussions as opportunities.

We learned to solve our back issue dilemma by changing the way we took the call. Now, when somebody calls to request back issues, we ask for an e-mail address and send an order form. We haven’t had a complaint in years.

Public agencies have mapped out similarly simple solutions to these problems. As you’ll read in “Smooth Out The Ripples,” by Chris Seris (starting on page 20), operators at the Student Recreation Complex and Mizzou Aquatic Center at the University of Missouri have learned to look at the underlying message being delivered (i.e., pool maintenance schedules) and working to determine if it’s valid and, if so, how to fix it.

Why is this important? Because, as you’ll read in “Harness The Power of the Public Realm,” by David Barth (starting on page 14), you and your peers in the public realm have the ability and power to effect unbelievable positive change. You have the ability to “advance all legs of sustainability--economic development, environmental protection and social stability” in your community. That’s a powerful responsibility. One that needs clear thinking, clear communication, and, perhaps most important, thick skin. Change is powerful. Change is hard. But, change is also inevitable.

Good luck with all your confrontations, I mean opportunities, this month.

Till next month…

Rodney J. Auth