ON THE AVENUES: You won’t believe what happens next.
A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.
Someone asks if you “know” a person, and you reply.
Yes, no, maybe, a bit, fairly well or not at all. You might know him through his music, or know her in the biblical sense. Maybe he’s someone you’d like to get to know, or you just don’t know enough about her. The list goes on.
Some of you know me as a blogger, a publican, an activist and a candidate. These tidy nouns somewhat cover the waterfront during the past 15 years or so, and yet they’re still an approximation. There’s a whole branch of philosophical study devoted to the proposition that we can’t know anything (or anyone) at all.
It occurs to me every time I attend a Redevelopment Commission meeting.
There are those long-term acquaintances going back even further, who will recall my early European travels, our college days at IU Southeast and the way I used to pretend to be an athlete while in high school. Lots of things happen to make up a life. Some are public, others not.
Along the way there was an infamous underground newspaper start-up, various musical obsessions, walking, biking and even a few years patronizing a gym. There have been many good books, a million words written and time enough for the judicious application of beverage alcohol.
But absolutely none of it will have prepared you for today’s shocking revelation. I advise finding an upholstered seat, pouring a stiff drink and igniting your choice of leaf.
At the tender age of 56, I am enrolled in the 2016-2017 Discover program of Leadership Southern Indiana, or as it would prefer being known these days, Leadership SI. Today is the first scheduled activity, an overnight retreat.
It feels like waiting for the bus that first day of grade school in 1966, albeit with an iPhone in my pocket. I didn’t vomit then, so let’s hope my luck continues.
Know just this: Once you’ve returned to consciousness, there is nothing you can say that I’ve not already covered in one of several lengthy internal dialogues.
The struggle is real and the anxiety palpable.
Am I soon to become a team player, wearing crisply tailored Wal-Mart suits and “reaching out” to one and all, awash in jaw-breaking jargon-speak, and emboldened to undertake a career in financial services or River Ridge enfluffment after enjoying an ice-cold Miller Lite at a chain concept bar in the exurb?
Honestly, I don’t think any of these transformations are going to happen, and such is my steadfast commitment to transparency that I’m right here on the blog, with you now, ready and willing to explain why. Afterward, I’ll be available for hanging in effigy, though Bicentennial Park is closer to the house, and I could walk there in a flash.
Leadership SI has been around for many a year, and to be honest, up until right about now I’ve paid absolutely no attention to it.
Insofar as Leadership SI periodically drifted onto my radar screen, I dismissed it as a staged contrivance for corporate appeaser cadres, and a likely appendage of the biggest regional stooge of all, One Southern Indiana.
Perhaps I exaggerated a tad. Here’s the overview, straight from the organization’s web site.
Leadership Southern Indiana is an organization that exists to train local professionals on how to better impact their community. Our goal is to create cross-sector, multi-generational leaders who become mobilized to transform the region as a whole.
Benefits of Leadership Southern Indiana:
Individual Growth: Our programs build your knowledge and skill sets, taking an internal focus to foster an external impact.
Key Relationship Development: With over 1,300 alumni, you will build lifelong friendships, critical professional contacts, and cross-sector partnerships to increase community collaboration.
Community Transformation: Programs and events will open your eyes to the opportunities to get involved–from volunteerism to philanthropic efforts and board membership, you will become more aware of the part you can play in total community improvement.
Actually, my first experience with Leadership SI came in early fall of 2015, when it sponsored the three-way mayoral candidate debate at New Albany High School, which as you may recall was unfortunately rendered into a two-person spectacle because incumbent mayor Jeff Gahan refused to participate.
Now, that’s leadership, Nawbany-style.
At the time, I noticed that Gahan’s behavior seemed to annoy the Leadership SI debate organizers as much as it did me, and I did a double take. There’s nothing like common cause to create empathy.
It wasn’t until the spring of 2016 that the idea of my involvement in a Leadership SI program was minted by a friend of mine, Dr. Daniel Eichenberger.
This, too, will come as a profound shock to some of you, though it shouldn’t. I’ve known Dan since 1981, and while we could not be any more different in terms of politics, at times publicly disagreeing in heated and strident terms, it has not stood in the way of remaining friends.
He’s also been my personal physician since 1997, and he says my health is almost as sound as Hillary Clinton’s. I believe him even though he’s a Republican.
Months ago, Dan asked me if I’d ever considered Leadership SI. I answered no, and recited my stock reasons for non-involvement. We chatted, and the gist of his persuasion was this: There might be things I can learn from the program and its participants … and there also might be things they can learn from me.
You know, a two-way street, like we don’t have enough of in New Albany. Dan’s comment moved me, because I hadn’t looked at it that way.
There’s also the matter of my being without work for quite some time, awaiting justice from my former business partners as a phalanx of lawyers put new spark plugs in their bulldozers and ready some chaos.
Who knows what’s next, so in short, what the hell? Maybe an old dog actually can master a new trick or two, and even dispense shards of wisdom along the way.
(As usual, can we begin with the beer selection? Shock Top? Leinenkugel Shandy? Seriously? Let’s just say that if Leadership SI is dedicated to the local community, it might be a good idea to have local beer at the alumni reception. I’m packing a cooler to the program-opening retreat just in case, and maybe a flask).
Finally, it isn’t the first time I’ve “joined” previous sources of suspicion with the objective of taking a closer look. I served terms on the boards of Develop New Albany (meh) and the Urban Enterprise Association (yeah). I tried running for council as a Democrat before having enough of the beast’s insipid belly flops, and opting to remain Independent as a mayoral candidate. I learned from each of these forays. It’s what you do.
I concede that the question remains valid. Exactly what might an aging polemical maverick of a contrarian and curmudgeonly rabble-rouser hope to gain from a Leadership SI program?
Dan’s testimony aside (he’s also sponsoring me, for which I thank him very much), I wouldn’t undertake the Discover program commitment unless I thought there was something of value to be gained on the part of all involved. I may be a cynic, but I wouldn’t waste the time and money of others.
Truthfully, I’m at a crossroads. My latent entrepreneurial side has started advancing cautiously from the containment zone of scar tissue following the business divorce. Since I’m both shy and extroverted, I need the energy and input of others — so long as there is time to be alone to process all of it and write about it afterward.
At a very hazy level, I see that leadership in this context is going to be about redefining my relationship with others. I’m not sure what this means, but there it is. I’m about to find out.
My muse has always been a crowded barroom. I’ve gotten away from that, perhaps to my detriment. Maybe it’s time to get back, and I believe that stepping outside of the box — something I’ve never hesitated demanding of others – might be step in the right direction for me. It’s as simple as that, and I’m looking forward to something different.
It’s hard to imagine me doing this without writing about it. Please stay tuned, and I’ll let you know how it goes.