The Common Sense of Ordinary People

Obama’s status as a leader was reinforced for me during an authentic and transparent interview he did this past weekend with CBS.

In it, he said he was most frustrated by his inability “to change the atmosphere” in Washington “to reflect the decency and common sense of ordinary people” who want their leaders to solve problems.

Obama also said, “I think there’s no doubt that I underestimated the degree to which in this town politics trump problem solving.”

Why are those remarks resonating so strongly?

I’m quite sure it’s because he nailed it.

Citizens would agree that politics often do get in the way. Additionally, they would likely suggest that government priorities, policies, and investments don’t accurately reflect our priorities – or as Obama puts it the “common sense of ordinary people”. 

In my work as a community builder across the country, I am seeing common priorities among Canadians.  Even though anecdotal in nature, my guess is these priorities would also resonate with Americans.

These priorities include health and wellness, education, economic growth, community infrastructure, and quality of life and preservation of the environment.

Under the priority of health and well being, citizens are worried about aging populations and their care, as well as physician recruitment in smaller and more rural communities.  But perhaps more importantly, they see the value of keeping a focus on wellness by supporting people to get more physically active and make healthy lifestyle choices. They recognize those strategies are what will address long term health issues and chronic disease, and reduce escalating health care costs.

Citizens also want an emphasis placed on education – not only for children and youth but for adult community and workplace learning as it needs to be seen as a core investment in our future. They reflect concerns about literacy, a lack of school funds for electives, school closings or opportunities for empty schools, and the importance of after school care. Many also see the importance of investing in education in aboriginal communities as they know they are the fastest growing segment of our population. 

And yes, while citizens are concerned about job creation, they see economic growth being tied to diversified and locally driven business development. They also see the relationship to the provision of opportunities for workplace learning and training, technology infrastructure, research, innovation, and small business development.

There are concerns about community infrastructure, particularly aging community and recreation facilities, and transportation (within, and to, other communities). Knowing that communities need to be appealing in order to attract the knowledge workers who can work anywhere and thus have the flexibility to choose where they live, community greening, walking trails, beautification, and community gardens surface as priorities. There are concerns about attainable housing options as well as recognition of the importance of creating other, or third, meeting places where citizens can connect. Adequate day care is also seen as a need.

In terms of quality of life and preservation of the environment, one of the most pressing issues is the decline of the volunteerism that is an essential part of each community’s social infrastructure. Funding is needed to ensure the recruitment, placement, supervision, motivation, and recognition of the volunteers who contribute so much to our quality of life.

Citizens want to see the coordination of environmental initiatives and an increase in alternative powers. Fostering diversity-friendly communities and ensuring immigrant settlement services are also issues. Within every community, the key role of the voluntary sector is recognized but there are concerns regarding their capacity to respond to needs given the declining support being provided to charities and non-profits.

Ultimately, there is also recognition of the need to make sure these priorities are addressed in a collaborative and responsible way. In fact, a perceived lack of leadership seems to be a key concern of all citizens.

As Obama referenced, we don’t want to see sandbox antics and petty competitiveness among political parties. As citizens consistently point out, the same networking, partnering, and collaboration that is required for innovation and increased effectiveness and responsiveness at the community level, must also be modeled by our elected officials.

Posted on 07-15-12

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