KC Belitz: Looking at the Ukraine situation

Originally published in the Columbus Telegram

The events unfolding in eastern Europe may seem like they’re a long way away, but I would suggest they nonetheless provide us an opportunity for perspective.

Just a week ago, life in Kyiv would’ve felt much like any U.S. metro area. Even more so, life in rural Ukraine would’ve felt very similar to our lives here. Away from the political battles, farmers or shop owners or welders in central or eastern Ukraine would’ve been doing many of the same things their counterparts in greater Nebraska were doing.

Today those realities are obviously very different. Businesses are closed, families are separated from their homes or each other as they’ve fled the country and there is great uncertainty about what their homeland and hometowns will look like in the months to come. This isn’t a column about the war or dictators or international politics, so I’ll leave it at that. But what is the perspective we should draw from this experience thousands of miles away?

First and foremost, I hope it’s empathy. And clearly the world could use a little empathy right now! Maybe with that perspective can come a little better understanding of those who think or act differently than we do.

But the perspective I’d like to dive into today from a community development lens is how this tragic set of events is an illustration of the tremendous advantages we have at our disposal. And these are advantages we inevitably take for granted because they’re not obvious or flashy. Where some might’ve previously described rural life in Nebraska as “boring,” I hope we now recognize it as stable—and that’s a very good thing.

I know it’s not exciting, but you cannot overstate the value of living in the middle of the most wealthy and powerful nation on earth in terms of our capacity to grow vibrant communities. Odds are pretty good that infrastructure is going to remain intact, banks and businesses are going to remain open, we won’t be forced to leave our homes en masse . . . all things our counterparts in Ukraine are now experiencing.

That stability allows us to concern ourselves with community needs higher up the developmental scale. As a practical matter, that allows time and money to go to community betterment instead of emergency relief or rebuilding. Progress instead of plugging holes in the dike.

But just as important, that stability allows us all to THINK differently. We can dream bigger. Our mindset can be driven by the prospect of a prosperous future, not an uncertain one. For the psychology majors out there, we can move up Maslow’s Hierarchy and think about moving our communities closer to their full potential instead of just stopping at the imperative of meeting basic human needs.

I know everything’s not perfect in Nebraska either. But the last week should certainly have given us perspective on the scale of those problems and hopefully made us appreciative of our assets, and perhaps, taken away some excuses for not getting involved in your hometown.

Greater Nebraska has plenty of assets, fundamentally sound systems to build on and the freedom to dream big dreams. So while we must empathize with those whose lives have experienced upheaval and pray for the people of Ukraine, I’d suggest we also have an obligation to each other to fully utilize these advantages we’ve been given. Maybe this perspective gives you the motivation to set aside what seemed to be barriers last week and instead focus your attention on the assets at your disposal to build a more prosperous hometown.

I know everything’s not perfect in Nebraska either. But the last week should certainly have given us perspective on the scale of those problems and hopefully made us appreciative of our assets.

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