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Don’t wait for cheese to accumulate before addressing a problem

Like many workplaces, we have a kitchen replete with a refrigerator to accommodate both staff and guests with meals, receptions, etc. And like many workplaces, things can remain in the refrigerator beyond their “use by …” date, until one glorious afternoon — usually on a Friday — a staff member clears it all out after multiple warnings before something unearthly grows out of the month-old haddock that might take over the planet.

Recently, we had some packaged cheese show up on the top shelf … then another package, and then another. Nobody thought much about it. We had plenty of meetings and receptions coming up, and surely it was for one of those. Events and weeks passed, but the cheese didn’t … it stayed. Finally, one of our staff members started asking around. Nobody had any knowledge of why it was there, so a notice went out that it would be first-come, first-serve for associates by that Friday if nobody claimed it.

Then the truth finally came out.

Fridge cheese 1

Another colleague sent this message: “Someone must have seen this TikTok.” We had been pranked! (Or maybe TikTok’d?) Other colleagues confessed and said they had even posted an event on our shared calendar months ago, “Planning for Cheese Initiative,” which nobody questioned. Hilarious.

I was in a recent meeting where we discussed regionalism, and one of the participants mentioned that every successful regional effort they had seen originated from a crisis of some kind — an employer leaving, a particular industry struggling or even a natural disaster. That has a way of shaking communities out of their usual inertia, and motivating them to try something new and radical. Without it, we tend to go along our merry way.

Another participant even said: “What we need around here is a good crisis!” An immediate problem gets attention and focus, and we tend to rally around that. When it’s a slower one that happens over time, we don’t notice it as much, and complacency sets in. Not unlike the cheese in the refrigerator, initial problems can become routine and ignored. Unfortunately, as challenges (and stacks of cheese) grow, they become even more intractable.

How do we avoid getting used to a problem before it becomes normalized? We must pay attention, and not think someone else is going to fix it later. This is our community, and these are our challenges. We must address them deliberately and collectively. Comedian and actress Tina Fey says: “Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles.”

By ignoring them, you may end up with a refrigerator full of cheese.

Brian Fogle is the President and CEO of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks.

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