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Note: This blog is adapted from a recent Thinking Forward event, in which a troupe of professional speakers (including me!) explored the theme, Transform Your Community for Good.

The lyrics to songs can be like poetry that speaks to us. Music—the arts, nature, so much that surrounds us—can reveal intelligence, wisdom, and basic truths that we can apply to the communities in which we live and work.

Do you know the song, Accentuate the Positive? It goes like this:

You’ve got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mr. In-Between
You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith, or pandemonium is liable to walk upon the scene

To illustrate my last remark
Jonah in the whale, Noah in the ark
What did they do just when everything looked so dark
They said you’ve got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mr. In-Between
No! Don’t mess with Mr. In-Between

(Music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, published in 1944.)

I got to thinking about how this song relates to communities—and here I’m thinking of communities in the broadest sense.

What are some of the characteristics of communities?

Communities of people come in lots of different sizes and shapes.

Communities are specialized and similar or diverse and different in terms of age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, cultural background, residence, level of education, economic status, type of employment, or some other demographic.

Communities likely have insiders and outsiders. Members may all live in the same county. Maybe they are all librarians or healthcare providers. Maybe they have the same professional degrees or licenses.

Communities can have different structures. They can be flat, where all members have an equal voice. They can be hierarchical, where some members fall somewhere between the top and the bottom.

In some communities, you already belong. If you graduated from a certain university, you are in the community of alum. In others, you have to join. For example, membership in an association of alums likely makes you a more exclusive member of the community, with additional benefits.

Some communities share a physical space and some share a virtual space. For example, the technical communication community, to which I belong, meets every year at a conference. Members of this community also meet virtually at webinars and other online forums.

Though communities are different, members have a common tie that binds them to the community—whether at home with your family and friends; at work with employers, clients, employees, and colleagues; in recreational activities; or in volunteer pursuits.

And, as human beings who breathe the same air and walk the same earth, we are all part of a very large community where what we do touches others.

Know a good community when you see it. Focus on the good. Focus on the positive.

As the song says, you’ve got to:

  • Accentuate the positive. Latch on to the affirmative.
  • Spread joy up to the maximum.
  • And have faith!

How do you recognize a good community? You’ll know it by its fruits. You’ll see a lot that’s positive, affirming, and encouraging. You’ll see signs of joy. And yes, there will be a spirit of faith and optimism. There will be a sense that wonderful possibilities can transpire.

Let me give you two examples: Read More

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