Cool Grand Rapids

This article was originally posted on the Cleveland Foundation Website on June 3, 2011

About the title of the blog – later. First …

Last week the Global Cleveland Summit provided a terrific forum for brainstorming ideas about how Cleveland can create an environment and message of welcome and opportunity to the world, and a culture of optimism among locals. I did not get a chance to sample all the sessions offered throughout the day, but did sit in on one that I thought spoke very interestingly to the cloud of self doubt and “it won’t happen here” attitude that seems so pervasive in Cleveland.

The session discussed the SOMO Movement – social and emotional learning – and provided research on something called “learned helplessness.” It seems that the majority of people (and animals, according to some icky scientific research) who experience a series of negative reactions to efforts they make, “learn” that nothing will change and, in fact, end up choosing failure even when options for success are presented to them.

I think Cleveland has been “learning” to choose failure for a very long time, but the cycle is hard to break. We are stuck in what’s familiar and, as Shakespeare said, we’d “rather keep those ills we have than fly to others we know not of.” A perfect description of learned helplessness.

Silly, isn’t it? And stupid. Which one of us has not learned and gotten better as a result of past failures? Why are we so reluctant to try something we haven’t done before – or let others try new things? Have we believed in failure so long that we are paralyzed by the unfounded certainty that whatever we try will automatically fail? Are there just too many people here who have never been anywhere else and so have no basis for comparison?

I did hear some sane and forward-thinking comments from some of the community’s older leaders while at the Global Cleveland Summit:

“The only thing wrong with Cleveland is February and March.
But then there’s one bad season everywhere. No mud slides,
hurricanes, floods, forest fires here.”

“We (the old guard) should put out the hors d’oeuvres, pour
the drinks and let the young people get on with it.”

Last week I toured the city with a Brit who has worked all over the world. She was agog at Cleveland’s beauty, culture accessibility, and livability. She said no one in Europe, Asia, or Africa has a bad opinion of Cleveland; they just have no opinion because they don’t know about it. She thinks Cleveland should market itself as “the lifestyle city.”

Now for that title. For one example of a town that seems to have no problem putting itself and lots of its young and unconventional faces out there on its own behalf, right along with the Mayor singing “American Pie,” check out this fun, sweet and very engaging YouTube video. Talk about a welcoming community.


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