This week, volunteer leaders from AIA chapters across the America and internationally convene in Washington DC for AIA’s Annual Grassroots Conference. For a few days, except for a few interruptions, they are free from chasing projects, navigating the challenges of project delivery, and lengthening accounts receivables. In an atmosphere of imagination, optimism, and sharing, members contribute to the programs and activities of the AIA—giving back to their professional organization—an organization fueled by human capitol—the energy, enthusiasm and emotional engagement of its membership.
AIA’s Grassroots Conference is remarkable for refreshing one’s attitude towards making things better in the world, including the AIA. Suddenly, we discover that the boundaries which once identified us as National, State, and local leaders and staff, are blurred (if not totally invisible). Instead, we find ourselves striving towards similar outcomes. The power of envisioning possibilities and aspirational thinking dominates, and, as leaders depart for home, promises of staying in touch, working together, and solidarity around the things that keep one up at night slowly, but assuredly, are replaced by the daily grind of translating ideas and money into the nation’s built environment.
Within the stress of making a living resides the causative influences that robs us of our collaborative attitudes. When survival rules, little else matters. Understandable, considering an ever-changing economy of growing complexity, and an expanding world that seems way too eager to substitute mediocrity for the value of design and the livability of our cities and our communities. Albert Einstein once lamented, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and forgotten the gift.” Are we content to live in a world that can only be reconciled in conventional financial terms?
Most everyone is more agreeable in good economies. Our problems slip to the back burner, and attitudes of collaboration are replaced with fear and competiveness. What is important to remember that it is in hard times when we need each other the most. In times of stress, we need to care about those in the AIA family that are suffering. If we only focus on our own survival, we fail to appreciate creeping cynicism and the erosion of member support that has historically defined the AIA.
We have a choice. We can choose to build fences and boundaries that seek to protect us from the challenges of a changing world, but most often this approach incubates despair, isolation, and loneliness. Instead, as we strive to maintain and strengthen relevancy to the needs of our members, we should seek out and explore new solutions that define a preferred future.
In the spirit of one AIA, maybe the chapters are no longer aligned in a way to advance collaboration. Perhaps State AIA Components can find new ways to support and resource their local chapters. And, maybe, National AIA could discover new and innovative ways to empower its members, and its chapters, in service to society.
AIA works very hard to take the high road on matters of conflict and consternation. Ever mindful of protocols of politeness, we frequently defer to paths less difficult, only to experience unintended downside consequences. What ever we do, as an organization, AIA should always be strong and resolute in its messages and its actions. The AIA and AIA members must gather the courage and the conviction to continue the good fight—design is truly the currency that enhances the human condition.
In the spirit of Repositioning, it is all a question of attitude. Keep it positive!
Thanks for listening.