The Missing Ingredient

If you’ve been to Albany, NY or Trenton, NJ, then you know that both cities bustle with government workers on weekdays, but look a little sleepy by nightfall and on weekends. The reason for this is the lack of small business energy in those cities. In the Berkshires, there is quite a bit of entrepreneurial activity, perhaps due to the lack of jobs, but also, it’s a testament to the creativity of our region. I often worry that if I don’t patronize my favorite locale(s), it could disappear tomorrow. Many shops seem to appear, close or move on a regular basis. I always have a twinge of guilt about not opening my businesses in North Adams, where I have a house, and yet, I just never saw the support there. Perhaps things are changing.

Since it is summer time, soon our family reunions will start. Our family, like many I assume, embodies the full range of ideologies and political leanings—anything from anarchist to libertarian, liberal, progressive and ultra right wing. While most people shy away from religion and politics, I’m pragmatic about both and so rarely worry about such conversations. I didn’t grow up Catholic, but I can see the strength that some people draw from their faith, and so it works for them. My wife, in particular, seems more relaxed after attending church, and sometimes I go to be with her. My son also has a sense of pride about his faith, which I think is positive.

Politically, people seem to look for reinforcement for their ideas and tune out to dissenting opinion. If you’re liberal, you listen to PBS and NPR and find lots of justification for your perspective. If you’re conservative, Fox News and AM radio gives you fodder. The truth is that you can find examples of waste, corruption and greed in non-profits, the private sector and government. While business often takes a lashing at the Wall Street or corporate level, it’s important to remember that -- for towns that don’t embrace small business -- you could be the next Albany or Trenton.

As we get older, sometimes we start to acknowledge the myths that we’ve been taught. Sometimes there is some unlearning that has to be done. Rather than seeking reinforcement for existing opinions, I think it’s good to seek out information sources to which we “disagree.” Listening is a lost art in our society. I can’t tell you how many times I have asked for one thing and received something totally different. Perhaps we’re in a constant state of distraction. Perhaps focus is a discipline that should be taught in schools through meditation or martial arts. People want to be heard. We have to leave space.

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