North County Outlook - Community newspaper serving Marysville, Arlington, Tulalip, Smokey Point, Lakewood

The structures of leadership


I like to walk. It's a great feeling to be outdoors in the fresh air, stretching my legs, and just having a little time to think. But walking has had a side benefit that I didn't plan or expect. It has helped me get to know my neighbors. As I pass by the same people day after day who are working in their yard or walking their dog or getting their mail, friendly greetings have turned into occasional small talk and sometimes even actual conversations. Over time I have developed a sense of familiarity and personal connection that helps me really appreciate where I live. And this has happened all because of a habit that simply gets me out of the house – my daily walk.

Winston Churchill made the observation that "we shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us." In other words, the habits and structures we build into our routines create experiences that mold the kind of people we become and the overall quality of our lives.

It takes these structures to bring us together as a community. They can be informal like my daily walk or the barista who knows my order before I say it, or more formal like a workplace, school, or civic organization. The thing these structures have in common is that they connect us with each other. In our world of Amazon Prime, Netflix, and snapshot deposits, being intentional about creating these opportunities for human connection is more important than ever.

We are very fortunate here in Marysville to have so many of these structures available. Think about all the service organizations, clubs, nonprofits, and advocacy groups in our city, not to mention opportunities for direct civic engagement like the Mayor's Diversity Advisory Committee or the Committee for People with Disabilities. The structures are there. So how can we make them more accessible and widely used?

The biggest obstacle I see is finding the time to build these activities into our daily routines. Even with the best of intentions, we all know how difficult it can be after a long day at work to commit to an evening activity that takes even more time away from our homes and families. But what if we didn't have to make that tough decision? What if we could incorporate the structures of citizenship into the routines we already have?

I would like to propose that we as a community consider taking what I like to call the "Citizenship Challenge." This would involve encouraging local employers to designate a couple of hours a month for each employee to engage in citizenship activities during their normal work day.

For example, I am on the Mayor's Committee for People with Disabilities. It meets quarterly at 3:30 in City Hall. While I am usually able to leave my job in time to make this meeting, many who would love to participate cannot because of their work commitments. What if their employer gave them two hours of paid leave on that day to participate in this important community activity? They could make their civic contribution without having to sacrifice much needed time with family and friends. Their lives would be enriched and our community would be made stronger. Businesses who participate in the "Citizenship Challenge" could receive special recognition, and maybe even some sort of tax incentive.

A healthy democracy requires active, engaged, and thoughtful citizen participation, but people can only do so much. If we truly value the privilege of self-government, then we need to make it possible for all to be involved. Let's build the structures of citizenship into the fabric of our daily lives.

Jim Strickland is a teacher at Marysville-Pilchuck High School and an advocate of Student Centered Education. He can be reached at


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