Tuesday, January 5, 2010

What Cleveland Needs in 2010

Civic pride can be a wonderful thing.

At its best, civic pride means shoveling your sidewalk and throwing your trash into the trashcan instead of onto the street. But Civic pride should be just the first step on a more far-reaching journey toward civic engagement, civic understanding, and finally civic wisdom.

What Cleveland needs in 2010 is not a simple boost in civic pride. What Cleveland needs is to start looking at itself with the interpretive eye of the literary critic, the art critic, or the historian.

In other words, Cleveland needs all of us to ask, “how did we get this way?” To willingly look back through the long lens of history at the ugly eras, and resist the urge to cherry pick the triumphs. We need to rid ourselves of blame, denial and the well-intentioned desire to “just stop dwelling on the past and move forward.”

But why can’t we just stop dwelling on the past and move forward?

Here’s why: if you’ve got a big gap in your resume, you've got to be ready for when the job interviewer asks you about it. And I’ve been on both sides of the interviewing table so believe me - interviewers can spot a disingenuous, muddle-mouthed, bullshit answer a mile away.

Let's say Cleveland is a guy who's arriving at a recruiting agency for a job interview. The recruiter takes one look at Cleveland's resume and says, "Hmm. Says here you haven't worked in 30 years. Your skill set is pretty outdated. Tell me how you plan on turning these failures into successes."

Now, our friend Cleveland could fidget and sweat in his chair and mutter, "Can't we just forget about all that?"

Or Cleveland could say, "I'm a survivor - although the last 30 years have been tough, I've never given up. I've seen lean times, but I've come out smarter because of it. I'm using our rich ethnic heritage to promote a burgeoning food scene, and our vast amount of vacant land to promote urban agriculture. Sure, it's taken awhile, but I've got the gumption and the motivation to make the leap into a new economy."

This is the sort of answer that shows an interviewer that you are a thoughtful, self-aware person. It suggests that you'd be an employee who would own up to your mistakes, rather than hide them in shame until it's too late.

Cleveland needs to be able to demonstrate that, too. We are poised at a unique, sink-or-swim moment: the time for civic self-exploration is now, and in the coming months, we at Cleveland Area History aim to facilitate that conversation to the best of our ability.

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