A personal piece accompanying “Lessons From the Front Line: What Communicators Can Learn From the Unrest in Minneapolis”
Ever watch the reputation of something you hold dear go down in flames? Ever wonder how something you thought was so wonderful may have been hiding something not quite so wonderful? Ever wonder how the reputation of your hometown was formed?
Sadly, for so many reasons, I have recently thought about all these questions. Hopefully, for so many reasons, I have answers to these questions.
Those who know me know I was born and raised in Minneapolis and have always been proud to be a child of the city. Minneapolis was a somewhat idyllic place to grow up, where you could enjoy the city’s many lakes and leafy neighborhoods, and get an odd small-town feeling while living in a major city. But recently, I’ve questioned everything I thought about my hometown and its reputation.
As a communication professional, I know reputation consists of the beliefs and opinions people hold about something. Businesses, organizations, people and, yes, cities can have reputations. Reputation is built by the experiences people have, the messages people hear, how and where those messages are repeated, and the feeling one gets from those experiences and messages. I believed my hometown was a better version of Lake Wobegon where all the children were much better than average, and certainly the shining city on the hill was Minneapolis.
But then those eight minutes and 46 seconds happened. And the Minneapolis I thought I knew was exposed for the Minneapolis it is. Days full of peaceful marches coupled with nights of unrest forever changed my perception of the leafy neighborhoods and treasured places of my youth. Things I thought I knew were revealed and the reputation of Minneapolis I had in my mind was clearly shown not to be the reputation others knew, experienced and felt. The blinders of privilege, the self-selection of facts and ideas, and other divergent realities came into focus as layers upon layers of things I had not known, experienced or felt were all exposed at once. A very different reputation and reality of Minneapolis was revealed.
Which brings us to today — new day. A day to consider what the new reputation of my hometown should be, could be, will be. And for people across the world, they will consider their hometowns in a new light and are likely to consider how the reputation of their hometown will be molded, messaged, shaped and ultimately earned.
Across the world, discussions, debates and arguments are happening to understand how to build and earn better reputations by building better hometowns for those who call that place home. Reputation is shaped by messages, reinforced by messengers we know and trust, and earned through personal experience that matches those messages. With a city’s reputation, words and deeds need to match — and match for everyone who calls that city home.
There is a lot of hard work to be done. Building a new reputation starts with an honest assessment of what is real and what is not so real. This work needs to consider people first and foremost. It needs to ensure we understand reputations exist in the hearts and minds of people, and these reputations need to be earned. Building a new reputation requires more than just words, it requires actions that create the reputation we seek. Minneapolis is just getting started on this path and feeling its way along.
In the years ahead, I am hopeful my hometown can and will have a reputation I am once again proud of, and one that works for and is worthy of all residents. That day isn’t now, and I don’t expect it to be soon, because the changes needed are undeniably complex and unfortunately well-entrenched. But I do know it is possible if everyone is willing to listen to each other and work together with open hearts and minds. I am encouraged by the grassroots actions taken so far and the voices leading the charge to ensure that realities experienced by all match the reputation the city seeks to hold. Together, we will shape — and more importantly earn — a new hometown worthy of a reputation anyone would be proud to call their own.