The most important factor in economic development is not business attraction, infrastructure investment or encouraging organic entrepreneurial growth. The key element is the vital part each of us plays in making our community better in 2018 than it was in 2017. This can be anything from attracting an Amazon to Central Florida to impacting a young person by serving as a mentor with Junior Achievement, the Boy Scouts or as a volunteer coach. After all, how do you know if the individual you invest in is not the next Jeff Bezos?
The significance of our personal contribution is illustrated in a story I remember about a rural village in Spain that was going to be visited by the king. The villagers wanted to throw a celebration, but being poor they had few resources. Then someone came up with a solution. Since many of the villagers made renowned wines, the idea was for everyone to bring a large cup of their choice wine to the town square. “We’ll pour it into a large vat and offer it to the king for his pleasure,” they decided.
The day before the king’s arrival, villagers lined up with their offering to the honored guest. They poured it through a small opening into the vat, which was positioned prominently in the city square. When the king arrived, he was given a silver cup and told to draw some of the village’s best. He filled his cup and drank the wine, but it was just water!
Every single villager had reasoned, “I’ll withhold my best wine and substitute water because with so many cups of wine in the vat, the king will never know the difference.” The king was less than amused by the duplicity and selfishness of the village.
When Giving Is Greater Than Having
When all decide to contribute, not equal amounts, but according to an equal sacrifice, the tide of the entire community rises. It is what GrayRobinson’s Charley Gray calls “paying your civic rent,” and it drives the region forward in a way everyone can celebrate.
That kind of service for the greater and mutual good becomes a much more lasting and meaningful reward than the personal accoutrements we often associate with success.
During his reign, King Frederick William III of Prussia found himself in serious trouble. Military conflicts had been costly, and in trying to rebuild the nation, he was seriously short of finances. Reversing his policies would be disastrous, so in a rather bold, if not audacious, move, he decided to ask the women of Prussia to bring their jewelry of gold and silver to be melted down for their country. For each ornament received, he determined to exchange a decoration of iron as a symbol of his gratitude. Each was inscribed with, “I gave gold for iron, 1813.”
It may surprise you, but the response was overwhelming. Amazingly, these women prized the gift from the king more than their costly jewelry. The reason, of course, is clear … the decorations were proof they had sacrificed for their nation. Indeed, it became unfashionable during that period to wear jewelry, and thus was established the Order of the Iron Cross. Members wore no ornaments except a cross of iron for all to see.
It is the same reason people will pay to wear the jersey of a sports franchise or put an Apple logo on their car without thinking of being compensated. They are captivated by the vision and purpose of that organization. It is that kind of engagement that transforms communities.