When you were a kid, at some point you probably received some advice from a family member who advised you not to do something that would embarrass your family – and especially not your grandma.
Back when I was a Scoutmaster, there was a similar thought process in place. One of the things we’d do during a troop outing was make sure we left a place better than we found it. Normally, that meant picking up trash we found (as well as our own) and hauling it back to the green boxes in town. In some places, we might cut up some downed snags or large branches to replenish firewood someone had left for the next camper.
For the same reason that we didn’t want to do anything to embarrass grandma, we knew it wasn’t a good idea to embarrass our community.
We might be halfway across the country at some other town’s store or restaurant, but our actions still reflect on folks at home, on our town, and yes, on grandma. Every town experiences a few episodes here and there where people’s actions don’t exactly improve people’s impression of their hometown – no matter where they’re from. The fewer of those instances we have is generally better for us all.
I don’t mean to say that we should live at the pleasure of folks who live in other places – nothing of the kind. I simply mean that our actions have consequences, and they can reach beyond our town or county. Sometimes the impact can be significant.
Likewise, we might be downtown on the square doing something that will ultimately reflect on our town. Perhaps you’ve seen a video or read a news story where someone’s behavior was a bit (or very) cringe worthy and not necessarily representative of the people of their hometown.
Every time someone sees it, it reflects on their town, their state, and their people. When they’re from here, it reflects on you and I. Your business, mine, and that of our neighbors. Whether it’s a legitimate reflection or not, we’re stuck with it until other actions alter that reflection. Our actions at that moment are often the only thing others have to consider. The person who created this situation gets to reflect on it every time they do business in their town. Someone is sure to realize who they’re dealing with, and perhaps comment on it, leave and/or ask them to leave.
You might not care what people think of your actions. Understand that a fair number of your neighbors care about what makes people decide to visit somewhere else instead of here. Most of us know at least a few people whose mortgage depends on tourism dollars, though this isn’t solely about tourism.
These actions can impact how a potential employer feels when they look at our area and evaluate how good a match we are for them. Perhaps they have the intention of building a facility and hiring some local folks for good jobs that don’t necessarily depend on tourism.
How such things set with people from elsewhere is important at some level, but how they set with us – that’s what matters most. It sets the tone for who we are and what we accept.
Our reputation among ourselves is much like the roadside / campsite trash that doesn’t find its way into the dumpsters by itself. Someone has to pick it up. Our actions work the same way. The actions we take as part of our community make us either better or worse as a whole. Very few are meaningless enough to leave things as they are.
When we embarrass ourselves in front of our town (and in some cases, our nation or maybe even the world), we’re telling everyone in town what we’re like and what’s OK by us. All of us – whether we like it or not. Sure, we can fix it later… but we can’t erase it. You can’t unsee the roadside trash that doesn’t get picked up.
This applies not only to our behavior around town and elsewhere, but to our school sports teams, our businesses, our employees, our government entities, and many others, including newspaper columnists. Each of us sets the tone that forms the impression the rest of us have as we live our lives here.
All of us are the Chamber of Commerce.