ESSAYS FROM WEST OF 98: PRIDE WHEN NO ONE IS WATCHING

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By James M. Decker

Community pride was on my mind over the weekend. A group of volunteers organized by the Stamford Chamber of Commerce worked to put some finishing touches on the tidiness of the downtown square and elsewhere in town, before the 88th Texas Cowboy Reunion kicks off and brings thousands of people into our town to celebrate the heritage and culture of the Texas cowboy.

I am thankful for the hard work of our community’s volunteers, city employees, and dedicated residents who went above and beyond to tidy up our community in advance of our premier annual event. Over the years, many rural communities (Stamford included) have struggled to put on their Sunday clothes for visitors to their major tourist events, whether it be a rodeo, hunting season, or other major cultural event. Scarce resources, limited time, and busy community members make it difficult to dedicate ourselves to tidying up our landscape. And yet, it matters.

As I’ve written before, taking pride in our community’s landscape sets our level of expectations for our community and its people. Our pride is also a signal to outsiders as to whether we find our place worthwhile and worthy of improvement. First impressions are priceless for visitors, whether tourists or prospective residents. Visitors should be excited by what they see, and intrigued to learn more about the people and the place, rather than left wondering whether the people care about their place at all.

Taking pride in our community landscape for the major events is the first and foremost tool to set a higher level of expectation. To use a sports analogy, if a team won’t get inspired to play hard in its big rivalry game, they probably won’t be inspired at all. If a community can’t be inspired to look good for its most important event of the year, it’s unlikely to look good the rest of the year either.

Once you establish the pride for your major events, truly setting a permanent, higher level of expectation in your community requires expanding that pride throughout the year. Hall of Fame basketball coach John Wooden famously said that the true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching. The true test of our community pride is what we do when the crowds AREN’T in town. The vacant lots are mowed and the litter is picked up for July 4th or the opening weekend of dove hunting season, but does anyone pay attention to those same concerns on a random Tuesday in March?

Last week, I wrote of sparks of community improvement turning into wildfires that sweep through our towns and spread beyond. May the pride in our community and the expectations for our landscapes do the same. When a weary traveler, a former resident, a new tourist, or a prospective resident wanders into the community, may they look around and see a people and a place striving to be better 365 days a year.

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James Decker is a lawyer, farmer, and mayor in Stamford, Texas, and the creator of the forthcoming “West of 98” podcast and website. He may be contacted through Facebook at facebook.com/james.decker.

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