Have you ever heard of “the tragedy of the commons”? If so, skip the next three paragraphs; if not, read as usual. It goes a little something like this:
A farmer sent his cows to graze in a meadow. His neighbor thought this was a good idea and asked if his cattle could graze there, too. No problem. There was more than enough for two herds—three, even; maybe four.
Soon another farmer let his livestock into the meadow. Then another. Then others. The first farmer decried so many animals gobbling up so much grass, but his concerns fell on deaf ears. All the farmers felt they had just as much right to it as he, so they kept coming back.
You probably guessed what happened. The land got plucked, trampled and strewn with waste. The farmers pointed fingers, but whoever was to blame, the fact remained that the meadow was no longer available to anyone, for grazing … or admiring.
That—plus the Fellowship-forming scene from The Lord of the Rings—crystallized my understanding of a concept called “regional stewardship,” the cornerstone of a leadership program I entered this year.
Twenty-five North Staters—including university deans, public administrators, nonprofit directors, businesspeople, a policeman and a councilwoman—constituted the charter class. I mentioned the program briefly in a column last year, then was invited to join, which I did to gain a deeper understanding of Butte and the surrounding counties.
I was impressed by the credentials of Butte Pioneers, the individuals who formed a civic venture-capital fund and made leadership development their first priority, and project. They include Ken Grossman, Bob Linscheid, Debra Lucero, Judy Sitton, Pastor Bob Sprague and Dr. Glen Toney. They cut across political, professional and cultural lines—no John Birch Society here.
The fund is administered through the North Valley Community Foundation and will support ventures geared toward improving the community. I can’t tell you much more about that, because investment banking isn’t why I signed on.
What drew me to the program was the idea of looking beyond artificial boundaries to seek cooperative solutions to common problems. Water issues transcend individual counties and irrigation districts. So do air quality, education, gangs, drugs, health care … you get the idea. Regional stewards take the tragedy of the commons as a reminder to look beyond immediate self-interest when considering problems with widespread implications.
I won’t wax hyperbolic and say the program changed my life. It did broaden my horizons, though, and I know my go-getter classmates will change many lives as a result of it.