On Volusia: What do you think?

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

–Dr. Seuss

Regardless of how busy you are – how full and interesting life may be – if you are not reading for pleasure, you’re doing it wrong.

If you’re reading this, chances are you understand the importance of researching and analyzing differing points of view on the local political spectrum before coming down on a particular side of an issue.

I do the same thing – weighing the information provided by powerful politicians or appointees against my base of knowledge on the issues – then consider all sides of the argument before forming an opinion.

That involves reading everything I can, including reams of boring agendas and meeting minutes, consultant reports, budgets and newspaper articles, to gain better insight into a particular public policy or political decision.

I’m talking about the importance of reading for the shear fun of it – to, as someone recently put it, “expand the horizons of your mind.”

In case broadening your cultural perspective isn’t enough, researchers have found that reading for both leisure and understanding has substantial neurological benefits as well.

My nightstand is virtually groaning with books.

Everything from Mary Welsh Hemingway’s fascinating story of her life with Ernest, to John H. Cunningham’s light “Buck Reilly” adventures (Buck want’s only three things in life: A plane to fly, a treasure to find, and a beautiful woman to rescue.  My kind of guy. . .)

I tend to slip into and out of various reads – an interesting combination of fiction, non-fiction and historical biographies – which usually means I have two or three books in rotation at any given time.

In addition, I have a core group of old friends I keep on my Kindle – an Amazon-based E-reader that stores hundreds of books, yet saves each one at the exact place I left off.

This device holds most everything Dr. Hunter S. Thompson ever published (at least everything that is currently available in electronic format), works that I re-read constantly as a source of writing inspiration and a completely different perspective on national politics – one man’s opinion on the issues of his day that are as prescient today as they were when the great man wrote them.

Dr. Thompson’s writing isn’t for everyone.  Like many of my own screeds, you are often forced down a wild and circuitous path before getting to the kernel – but, in my view, we often learn more from the journey than the destination. . .

I have just started two wonderful books, both by local authors, on two very different subjects.

Paradise Interrupted by Tom Levine, described by the Orlando Sentinel as a “cross between a stand-up comic and a political gadfly,” is a colorful novel right up my alley.

 “Disney World arrives and the transformation of Central Florida begins.  Twenty years later note everybody appreciates the new look.  Developers continue to salivate, locals cringe out of habit, rabbits try to adapt; and then someone draws a line in the sand.”  

The other, a work by Palm Coast writer C. K. McKenna, entitled Poppa: A fictional Biography of Joseph of Nazareth” was a loan from a dear friend. 

“Rather than have his pregnant fiancée stoned to death, a devout tekton marries her, and becomes “Poppa” to a son with a mysterious mission. Remaining true to the gospel narrative, this account shows us what scripture omits. McKenna offers a glimpse of Joseph and Mary’s relationship; what Joseph does to deal with her pregnancy and the extreme measures he takes to preserve the son for his divine mission.”

On the non-fiction side, I recently finished a great read by former CIA officer T. J. Waters, “Class 11: My Story Inside the CIA’s First Post-9-11 Spy Class,” an important look at the motivations and training of the largest class in the history of the Central Intelligence Agency’s clandestine service.

For me, perhaps the most important aspect of reading is that I learn something new every time I open a book – be it for the first time, or the hundredth time – invariably I expand my vocabulary, open my mind, and oftentimes discover how people in other parts of the country are using innovative ideas to build stronger communities.

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to return to the wonderful City of Thomasville – an historic community of approximately 20,000 in southwest Georgia – that, in my view, serves as the finest example of how whole community decision-making allows good ideas to rise and form the foundation for something better – and has resulted in the economic and cultural resurgence of the town.

During a previous visit, I became captivated by an incredibly unique biannual publication of the Thomasville Center for the Arts, “Thom” – in my view, the best community-based magazine anywhere.  (You can find it at www.thomasvillearts.org – Creative Economy drop-down.)

In the most recent edition – the 10th volume published – I read an interesting piece on the community-wide belief that “any town’s strong future largely depends upon its thinkers, innovators, explorers and artists,” which resulted in the magazine reaching out to ten local trailblazers in a project they dubbed, “Project X: The Power of 10.”

The editorial staff imagined that if they could “get into the minds of 10 local leaders, we might stumble on a common thought that, if harnessed and developed, could be the start of something big.”

In turn, they selected an eclectic group of local visionaries – not just the thoughts and opinions of the “Rich & Powerful” –  and asked that they take photographs of things that represented their concerns and ideas for the future of the community.

The magazine received over forty compelling images, along with the heartfelt thoughts and suggestions of those who captured them.

What resulted was an almost universal desire to create a bright future for the children of Thomasville.

Most important, Project X began a larger discussion in the community by challenging residents (“the collective power of our community”) to think about what they could do, individually and collectively, to move the project forward and see their creative suggestions become a reality.

With election day quickly approaching, we have an opportunity for new beginnings.

I challenge our ‘movers & shakers’ – our policymakers and politicians, newcomers and incumbents alike, to consider tapping the creativity of residents of Volusia County in the decision-making process.

Encourage all constituents – from young people just starting out, entrepreneurs beginning enterprises, the arts community, established small business owners, retired persons and those who are engaged in our areas various grassroots advocacies – to express their thoughts and opinions on how we move forward to create a more vibrant, inclusive and stronger community – then factor those suggestions into public policy.

Something beyond a “Town Hall” meeting where pseudo-experts and government wonks talk at us – I’m suggesting a real effort to encourage creativity, innovation and involvement by all stakeholders by asking the question, “What do you think?”

When people feel that their opinions matter, you would be amazed at the contributions they can make to organizations, governments and their own neighborhood.

It’s called creating buy-in and ownership – something desperately lacking on Florida’s Fun Coast – and sometimes it’s as simple as asking those most affected about their needs, wants and dreams for the future.







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