From the Mayor 12/28/16

Do you have what it takes to be average?

Average is a mathematical term typically indicating something in the middle of a group or pack. We have many nicknames for the "average" person: The Common Man, Average Joe, Plain Jane, and Joe Six-Pack, just to mention a few.

The statistics on Average Joe or Plain Jane can get quite detailed. Did you know that the average person laughs 13 times a day? Or that the average person opens the refrigerator 22 times a day? (Let that sink in for a bit; we open the fridge almost twice as often as we laugh during the course of a day. But that's a discussion for another column on another day).

Most people don't like to think of themselves as average. But to put it bluntly, the average person is, well, average. I suppose that everyone is above average in some ways, and below average in others. I know that I’m taller than average. I also know that I’m older than average (by two decades…ouch). I also know that I’ve got below average skills as a runner and swimmer; in fact, I’m probably in the bottom one percent in both those categories.

When I was a kid, the last week of December was the one week each year when everyone spent some time contemplating those areas we wanted to strive to be above average. We did so in order to choose our New Year’s Resolutions. Does anyone still make New Year’s Resolutions?

This year, what would happen if we chose a city-wide New Year’s resolution? How about if we all agree to make a city-wide New Year’s resolution for 2017 for Independence…to shoot for being average?

My vote is “no.” A big “no.” While many cities would be thrilled to work their way up to being average, Independence is already exceptional. But why just coast along, resting on our laurels? Living off the work that our predecessors put into making this town wonderful?

I already know that some will not like this conversation. I had this discussion with a friend and he accused me of living in La-La Land. He said, “For God sakes, lighten up, we’re no worse than anyone else.” Wow. Now there’s the motto I want for Independence. There’s a motto that will inspire our high school graduates to want to stay and make Independence their lifelong home; a motto that will inspire new people and new businesses to flock to town: “Independence, We’re No Worse Than Anyone Else.”

Why not continue to strive for great?

What might it look like if we were to resolve to become a great city? I imagine it would look different for each person. Perhaps we had a glimpse of that goal earlier this year with our first Love Independence Day. On that one day, people all over the city actively thought about, and searched out, ways to make the day wonderful for some random person. Just imagine if we did that continually? That would seem like a sure way to become a great city, and I know several people who do that already.

Three weeks ago, I had the wonderful honor of showing around a young couple who were considering a move to Independence. (By the way, they did make the decision to make Independence their home, and will be moving here in April!) As I was showing them around the library, and the park, and the zoo, the young woman said: “Wow, this city is amazing, I can’t decide where I want to volunteer first.”

What a great thought.

I can’t decide where I want to volunteer first.

How great would Independence be if everyone thought that way? Don’t get me wrong, we have hundreds of people who volunteer countless hours of their time. But we have others who – when they see something that needs improvement - seem only to complain, rather than to consider how they can work to improve the situation.

Maybe volunteering is exactly where we should all start if we want to make our city great. Maybe we should call Barb Beurskens at the zoo and say, “I want to help, how can you best use me?” Or contact Jerry Bright with the Community Mission for Improved Housing, and say “How can I help?” Or perhaps call Jeri Hopkins at the library, and say, “I’ve got three hours free every Tuesday, please put me to work.” Or call the school district and say, “I want to read with kids.”

Perhaps those who accuse me of living in La-La Land are right. But the question stands. Making Independence a world class city may be difficult, maybe even impossible, but is that a good reason not to try? This is our home. Isn’t making it wonderful worth some sweat? Worth our very best efforts?

Mayor Gary Hogsett