Humility: A City's Secret Weapon
Striving for importance never leads to good governance.
This past Sunday, my pastor shared a word that has sat with me as I’ve started my week:
“Humility is the hook on which God rests renewal.”
After some time pondering the countless places in my own life where this packed a punch, I got thinking about how this can be true for cities as well. On a spiritual level, of course, but also in its practical approach.
Often, cities get themselves in the biggest pickles by doing unwise things in the name of chasing prestige. Ironically, this very prestige is often what sparks the in-migration and cost-of-living spikes that displease locals (and, allegedly, the very politicians who chase the prestige in the first place).
Perhaps part of why this isn’t more common is that it sounds on the surface like not taking pride in your city. But that’s just not the case.
Humility is the opposite of arrogance, not confidence. In fact, it’s a confidence, recognition, and rootedness in one’s identity that makes humility possible. This is true for each of us, and also true for the places we live.
When a city is less focused on identifying ways to prop up its sense of self-importance, that clears the way to focusing on the work that actually builds a legacy worth knowing about. Instead of courting status symbols, cities are able to turn inward and serve the people who’ve already chosen to call them home.
And attitude is an infectious thing. When leaders model a sense of humble confidence in their neighborhoods and towns, it can foster a spirit of contentment amongst those they lead as well.
While I’m not so naive as to think a few thoughtful politicians can turn a town into Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, people like to feel like they’re following “the good guy,” no matter their political persuasion.
Political and financial capital not spent on luring status symbols is political and financial capital that can be put towards addressing the gaps and problems that locals face on a daily basis; a new wheelchair-accessible ramp at the rec center, completing gaps in the sidewalk network, adding protection for bike lanes, fixing a broken playing apparatus at the park.
These are projects that can not only disproportionately increase quality of life for many residents, but almost always cost exponentially less than the subsidies and debt financing that are put behind bringing in a new trophy piece.
And while they may never gin up a magazine profile for a local politician, these types of projects are the very ones that make them memorable to locals.
No one remembers the “Got us a Walmart” guy.