I was recently enjoying a family activity when one of my sons snapped a photo of me laughing. I instinctively grabbed the phone and declared that it needed to be deleted immediately because I looked “awful”!
This is something I’ve been doing since I was a teenager and is my knee-jerk reaction to most photo-taking. However this time, my daughter’s reaction caught my attention. “Mom, why don’t you think highly of yourself? We should all think highly of ourselves!”
Bam! She is so right and I was suddenly aware of how she is watching me and my reactions and expressions of self-worth. She is wiser than I, apparently, about the danger and pettiness of self-criticism — especially about superficial things like the way we look. We are born with all the confidence in the world, and somehow, life, school, sometimes family and the media begin to define how we see ourselves.
It can take a lot of internal work to recognize our beautiful, unique and worthy qualities, which of course we all have. I think this is true of us as individuals and also applies to our perceptions of our community, especially when we live in an area that faces some resource challenges and has a history of being marginalized and discriminated against by more powerful areas in our state, which is true of our border region.
Our tendency as adults is to focus on what we don’t have and what we cannot do. Sometimes this is because we have been hurt or held back in the past and sometimes it is because we are afraid of the future, of change and the risks involved in having a bolder vision. A famous quote by Marianne Williamson addresses this beautifully.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?…. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.”
Some of our local bloggers and even elected officials spend a lot of energy tearing down efforts to create a vision and improve our community. It is easier to focus on the blemishes and barriers than to work with others on building our assets. It is scary to make the jump from self-deprecation to bold vision. It takes an effort to switch gears, just like I have to make a conscious effort to “think highly of myself.”
I’ve heard some leaders in our community say that making improvements to pedestrian and cycling infrastructure by obtaining funding from grants and investment, is like “putting lipstick on a pig” and that “you won’t solve problems by putting poor people on bicycles.”
This is such a narrow vision of what this community is and can become. Do we face many barriers and challenges here in the Rio Grande Valley? — of course we do! Do we have under-appreciated, amazing historic, cultural, human and natural resource assets? — Absolutely!
Should we focus on those who have the least in order to equitably distribute resources and bring up the level of our whole community? We must! Having an ambitious and modern vision for the future is not mutually-exclusive to addressing current and real challenges, like filling potholes and mitigating street flooding, which we can actually address better through smart growth planning and innovation.
Our communities are often highlighted for their poverty, obesity and corruption, and there is of course truth to those descriptions. But we are and can be more than grim statistics. In fact, having a vision for alternative and active transportation, improving green and public spaces, smart planning, environmentally friendly development and bringing together diverse public and private partners to actively pursue new sources of funding for jobs, small businesses, tourism and healthy living, is a great way to generate revenue and provide our local population with opportunities to be healthy and feel positive about their own community.
This creates a healthier workforce, reducing healthcare costs to businesses and families, and retaining and attracting talented locals to stay or return to the Valley and contribute in the future.
When I was growing up there was a beautiful public outdoor amphitheater in my hometown that had a well-known inscription written across the stone face of the stage that I remember staring at during numerous music and theater performances throughout my childhood.
The words said, “Without vision, a people perish”. This inspired me as a child and I remember it often as an adult now, particularly when it comes to contributing to my home here in the Rio Grande Valley.
Critique and honest assessment of problems and barriers to building better community is key to identifying areas for improvement, but a focus only on our limitations and foibles is destructive and impedes progress.
As my 11-year-old daughter reminds us, we need to “think highly of ourselves”, both as individuals and as a community, and we need leaders and citizens with vision, because Tu Salud ¡Si Cuenta!” (Your Health Matters!).