Apples and Cocker Spaniels

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.” 
                                                    --A Tale of Two Cities, Chas. Dickens

Met over coffee (actually, she had Raspberry Iced Tea, Panera’s caps) yesterday with a rural Kansas county commissioner carrying a familiar lament: A vocal minority lobbing grenades, poisoning the water on deliberations and actions taken by the governing body.
Tap your foot or sing along if you’ve heard this refrain before.

Last week, some colleagues and I were privileged to present to a gathering of Kansas county commissioners in Wichita. We shared thoughts and ideas about adding some value to achieve more meaningful civic engagement. Raspberry Iced Tea buttonholed me and followed up.

This morning, here in Manhattan, our 23-year old niece and I arose at oh-dark-thirty to run in the Inaugural Bill Snyder Highway Half-Marathon and 5K. She’s a Neosho County native, back home in God’s Country for the holiday weekend. 

The 5K route (we’ll do the 13.1 next year) started in the front courtyard of the new K-State basketball training facility, then on to the new Vanier football complex construction. South on College Avenue past the site for the new women’s soccer fields, east past the re-furbished Jardine student apartment complex. Back north, directly across the street from the fledgling National Bio and Agro-defense facility, a $1.25 billion complex that will ensure cheeseburger safety for generations to come. 

NBAF will sit just catty–wompus from the new KSU Foundation complex, yet another construction project we ran past. One simply can no longer swing a dead cat in my community without the carcass coming into direct contact with a hard hat, construction crane or stack of limestone facing.
Granted, Raspberry Iced Tea’s community does not have a land grant university as the focal point driving all this growth, so it’s unfair to compare her community to Manhattan. It’s not even apples and oranges.

More like apples and cocker spaniels.

But Manhattan’s experienced our share of grenade lobbing and water poisoning in civic discourse.

My elderly downtown barber recently regaled me with 60-year old tales of soon-to-be-displaced Blue Valley landowners who actually brandished firearms over what they considered “big dam foolishness” and squeezed off a few rounds at the construction crews building what today is Tuttle Creek Dam and Reservoir north of town.


Our niece (Jackie’s sister’s daughter) is a graduate student in Iowa. She wants to help people suffering with speech disorders. The demand for that kind of empathy, skill and talent is ubiquitous. She can go anywhere on the planet and succeed. But her current choo-choo train of thought is aimed at Manhattan, Kansas. 

I’ve lived in Kansas all my life (save my 20th year when I followed a girl to Minneapolis. It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair). Long enough for me to get a sense of community leadership, vision, collaboration, consensus building – simply by driving around with my eyes open.

Those who pioneered the ideas my colleagues and I work with believe there’s no such thing as a dysfunctional system. Every system is perfectly aligned to achieve the exact results it currently gets.

The implication is clear. Garbage in. Garbage out. The hard, but essential work is engaging the lobbers and poisoners before they lob and poison. 

Change. Adapt. Add value to the process.

Maybe it’s because I live in a growing, thriving community where our niece is considering starting her career. Might be because of the work I do. I’m confident a big part of it is because I now find myself at the precipice of middle age, I have enough experience to know – not just assume, wish or hope – but to know, that community – however you define it, can get better.

Viewed from that perspective, I will posit here, that these are, in fact, the best of times.