Pacific Director Blog

If You’re Not At The Table, You’re On The Menu


We help the people we are comfortable with

I recall a conservation district where several years ago I was facilitating the latest iteration of their long-range plan.  Their operating paradigm for years had been tightly focused on livestock exclusion fencing.  “If it’s not fencing, we don’t do it” could have been their operating motto.

As their long range goals began to take shape, one board member pushed back against the status quo.  I recall his exasperation when he told his fellow board members that if the district kept working only with the people they knew, they would run out of business because people die, sell, or move.

The sense of shock in the room was palpable.  What he had said was so uncomfortable to others that the conversation didn’t just die down, it abruptly stopped.  The silence in the room lasted for several seconds that seemed like minutes.  When conversation resumed, there was some acknowledgement of the truth he had uttered, but the overall plan did not significantly change.  It was too uncomfortable to think about working with people they didn’t know.

We help the people we are most comfortable with.  We talk with them, we meet with them, we create plans and solutions with them.  But we tend to not do these things with people who hold points of view that we don’t agree with, or in the case I outlined above, with people we simply don’t know.

Reach out to dig out

If we simply help the people we’ve always helped, we’ll eventually run out of those people.  This amounts to digging ourselves a hole in the ground that will eventually swallow us up.

Meanwhile, new people are buying land, starting operations, and becoming part of the community.  They use and manage natural resources. Their actions affect the resources that conservation districts are tasked with conserving.

We can’t help them if we live in our burrow.  We can’t fulfill our statutory responsibilities as conservation districts if we ignore that they exist and that they are using natural resources.  We have to reach outside our comfort zone to get out of that hole.  We have to talk to people we don’t normally talk to.

Maybe it’s a livestock group that your conservation district is uncomfortable with.  Maybe it’s an environmental group with a presence in your community.  Whatever it is, make a plan to introduce your conservation district and your people to groups you don’t normally talk with.

A few days ago I heard some homespun wisdom from a conservation district manager I’ve known for years.  It’s so obvious it hardly needs to be said, and yet saying it brings the point home: if you have a plan, things get done.

Make a plan to reach out to people you don’t usually work with.  If you make a plan, it’s more likely to really happen.

You must show up

This modern proverb – if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu – is one I rarely hear in my conversations with conservation districts.

If you’re not at the table, others are going to think you don’t care.  If you don’t care,  you don’t matter.  If you don’t matter, you won’t be part of the solution.

Woody Allen said that “showing up is 80 percent of life.”  You’ve got to show up to be part of the solution.

Those folks who you don’t normally talk with?  They are working on solutions.  If you’re not at the table, you may get swallowed up by the projects and programs they are creating.

Go talk with people who don’t know who you are.  Make a plan, take a step outside your comfort zone, and show up at the table.

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