By John Hamerlinck
Ten years ago, I was working for a government agency that was actively involved in remediation of the Y2K computer problem. Now days most people look back at that time and remember some rather scary predictions and a relatively uneventful New Year’s Day, 2000.
This result was not simply a case of unfounded crisis hype. The cause for the reasonably humdrum January 1, 2000, was countless hours of work by folks in every sector of society, acting to ensure that problematic systems were updated. The smooth Y2K rollover, however, was not the only thing that they achieved.
We live in a culture where we are constantly presented an overly-simplistic, “either/or” view of the world. People are seen as only liberal or conservative; ideas are only deemed to be either good or bad (as if the “both/and” versions of these options didn’t exist). Because of this, we tend to look at events like Y2K simply as something that either did or did not happen. A little additional analysis, however, reveals that numerous benefits resulted from all that hard work.
Cities, hospitals, businesses and schools everywhere suddenly had disaster preparedness plans that could be (and have been) implemented during all sorts of natural and human-caused catastrophes. Widespread computer hardware updates resulted in increased productivity as organizations replaced slow, inefficient machines. Perhaps most significantly, people whose lives and enterprises moved along seemingly oblivious to the larger world were suddenly required to gain a deeper understanding of the world’s interconnectedness and interdependence.
As we engage in the work of community-building through civic engagement it is important to avoid the trap of dualism. Overcoming the common challenges we face will be more difficult if we see concepts like leadership and power in limited, “either/or” terms. We can all find lots of opportunities to demonstrate individual and collaborative leadership. As for power, it is an unlimited and renewable resource.
When we embrace a broader, multi-variant view of engagement, assessing and evaluating our work becomes more effective. We begin to recognize more unintended consequences, more unforeseen benefits and more opportunities to find underdeveloped capacities in the gray areas between the black and white surfaces.