Our democracy is in trouble. We know that there are times in our local communities, and increasing examples at the national level, when gridlock sets in. As is painfully obvious in our national presidential campaigns, we do not always appreciate, respect or even listen to another's perspective. We seem more interested in proving that our positions are right than in finding mutually agreeable solutions to our problems. We seem to forget how essential it is to find common ground. Long after elections are settled, we are still engaged in what has been termed "hyper-partisanship."
So what can we do to change this? How do we engage in respectful, inclusive and collaborative conversations, at least at the local level? For the past 40 years Leadership Greater Hartford (LGH) has been at the helm of bringing people together from different parts of the community, to foster their leadership skills, and help them apply those skills to tackle these tough civic and civil challenges.
There is a growing understanding, among our 6,000 program graduates and other leaders of area business, government and nonprofit organizations, that Greater Hartford is ONE region. We rise and fall together. And the better we are at recognizing our shared interests and in forging common solutions, the stronger we become.
In recent years, the region has seen countless examples of effective collaboration. Within the past several years alone, LGH has collaborated with the Hartford Police Department to hold tough conversations about community policing — involving citizens in discussions with police officials to build the awareness and mutual trust needed to create constructive partnerships and to avoid the social unrest experienced in other communities.
When the city was entertaining a proposal to build a baseball stadium two years ago, LGH mediated a forum that allowed disparate voices to listen to each other to ensure that the public investment was affordable and would spur greater economic development benefits to Hartford's downtown north neighborhood.
LGH is proud of our partnership with hundreds of Hartford stakeholders who were engaged six years ago to create "One City/One Plan," a guide still used to advance the city's top priorities. When the Hartford Public Schools initiated school governance councils to bring together parents, teachers, community members and school principals to help them share essential decision-making for their schools, LGH was asked to provide the support and training to help these councils work together effectively, a role we continue to play.
And right now LGH is front and center in partnering on an unprecedented civic initiative, Hartford Decide$, where thousands of city residents, 14 years and older, are making decisions about how to spend $1.25 million on community development projects they have determined will improve life in their city.
The net result of these and other collaborative efforts is that our communities are healthier and more inclusive. As a consequence of engaging multiple parties, we're making better decisions in our public safety, education and overall planning efforts — and those decisions are getting broader support. Mutual trust, respect and understanding — essential ingredients for any democracy — are on the rise.
Unlike the many physical changes being made along our riverfront or to our skyline, however, improvements to the civic culture may not be readily visible to the eye. Still, they contribute mightily to the ability of our communities to solve problems and to chart a future course that reflects the best thinking and interests of all.
Ted Carroll is the president of Leadership Greater Hartford.
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