Learnings from Youngstown and Avatar

Small town living and the movie Avatar might have something in common. 

Last week a colleague and I delivered a community building workshop in Youngstown, Alberta – population 190. Forty five people from a variety of backgrounds attended including business owners, elected officials, volunteers, and social profit and government staff.

As we were setting up for the workshop, Mayor Bob mentioned they had held a ceremony for a bumper crop of high school graduates in the same hall the previous week. Curious as to what “bumper crop” would translate to in a town of less than 200, I asked, “So how many students graduated?” The mayor advised there were six. While that made me smile, what was astounding is that he went on to report that 600 people attended the graduation ceremonies!

That graduation explains more than anything what it is that people love about living in small communities. It manifests the belief that we are all interconnected at some level and therefore are interdependent and reliant on one another. In that small community, everyone cared and watched out for one another. And, when six of their own achieved a significant milestone, they celebrated the success together.

The lesson of the importance of this interconnectedness was emphasized in Avatar. The movie promoted an understanding that people are not different races, but rather interconnected beings inhabiting the same planet.

On some level we all seem to have a vague sense of understanding that the ecosystem of planet Earth is delicate as it too is intimately interconnected and interdependent. However, we have sometimes chosen to conveniently ignore that all species will be at risk for extinction if we mess with the delicate balance and relationships of the ecosystem.

As Avatar stressed, relationships are inevitable for any living being whether it is a plant, an animal, or a human being. In nature we see the importance of symbiotic relationships where two organisms of different species live and work together, each one of them benefiting from mutual cooperation. In these symbiotic relationships the two entities need each other to survive and prosper. A good example is that of the bee and the flower. Bees get nectar from flowers but pollination also takes place when the bee flies from one flower to another.
Avatar got me thinking that this same kind of symbiotic relationships is also essential within communities. When we don’t bond with one another enough to understand, respect, and ultimately care about the life around us, we too are at risk.

I’ve sensed the erosion of this bonding and respect in some communities particularly as they grow larger. The decline is especially evident in communities that have made economic development their only priority. For example, while there is no doubt the oil and gas industry is essential here in Alberta, the successful communities are those that have balanced its removal against the care and concern of people and the ecosystem.

At the end of the day, the messages from Youngstown and from Avatar are that we all need to keep our focus and priority on what’s best for people and the planet. That means it needs to be about investing time in meaningful conversations, determining community values and priorities, and building the trusted relationships needed for change and growth. It won’t be easy but it will be the most vital and significant work we ever do. 

Posted on 05-30-10


As a sci-fi loving community developer, I love your Avatar comparison, Brenda.  And yes, if we are going to flourish, we will start having to value our symbiotic relationships. 


•Posted by Janet Naclia  on  05/31/10  at  08:51 AM

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