Can a magazine change a town?

Wednesday 3 October 2018

Three years ago, our red heeler, Maggie, was dumped on a friend’s farm by someone they knew. Apparently her owners, a couple, were getting divorced. Neither one wanted her. Maggie had a chain around her neck and was overweight. Her hair was coming out in clumps. It was heartbreaking. 

Trev says that once the chain was removed, Maggie was a different dog. She started running around the farm, playing with other dogs and interacting with people. Because Trev had removed the chain (and because he’s just that kind of guy), Mags followed him like a shadow. Little by little, the only natural thing was to take her home. In fact, Trev *had* to. Because they were going to put her down.

The other night, Trev and I were sitting in front of the TV when Trev complained, ‘Vanessa, why does Maggie always go to you and not to me? I’m the one who rescued her!’. It's true. Trev DID rescue Maggie. But for some reason, she’s my dog. Maggie follows me everywhere. She sits at my feet as I write, she sleeps on my side of the bed (albeit on the floor). She even tries to follow me into the bathroom. In short, Mags loves Trev. But she is my dog and I am her human.

Yesterday, as I was walking down the main street of Kilmore, I overheard a young boy ask his dad 'why do they let the buildings get so bad?'. I must admit I've wondered the same thing on many occasions, and I've spoken about it in numerous private conversations. Driving through town, it’s disheartening to see. Especially when things could be so.....different.

But here's the good news. Very often, all people NEED, in order to realise how truly capable they are (and to motivate them to take action), is a REFLECTOR.

One of the reasons I become involved in Spotlight was the opportunity to help uncover the greatness in Kilmore and weave the story. All the while being realistic and genuine. This is NOT about being fake or paying lip service.

Now, the old adage says, that if plants are spoken to in a positive way, their growth is faster and stronger. Whether there is truth to this, well.....that's up for debate. But I'm of the firm belief that people, animals and plants, we're all living beings. Atomically, we're made up of fairly similar stuff. We also know that people, when given positive reinforcement, grow.

So I talk to Maggie all the time. I tell her what a special animal she is, and how grateful I am to have her in my life. I tell her that she's caring, loyal, funny and kind. I tell her how loved she is. To many people this might sound ridiculous. But anyone who's ever loved an animal will understand. Without overdoing it (OK maybe, just a bit!), I reflect Maggie's greatness back to her, every single day. And she responds by being genuinely easy to train, manage and recall. Plus, she follows me everywhere. It may just be that I'm a sucker for dishing out tummy rubs, but you get the picture.

Spotlight on Kilmore is being launched this Saturday. I'd like to publicly thank my employer, Steph Ryan, MP. I have been engaged part-time on her team for this project. I would never have been involved had Steph not shown genuine warmth, care and encouragement during a very dark time. Steph encouraged me to start writing again, when I never wanted to write again.

Words have power. Stories build community. Narrative drives momentum. But when the light is captured, and shone back, ACTION happens.

Kilmore is a great town. They don’t need a 'hero'. None of us do. But Kilmore *does* need some help with being shown (not told) what they're really good at, and what is already working well. Help them see the door is unlocked, then enough people will open it, and walk on through.

A mentor of mine once said that we create more good by finding what is already good and building upon that. The process is called Appreciative Inquiry (AI). I'm a huge advocate of AI and it underpins every single part of my work and life. 

Next week. Spotlight on Kilmore will be live, in print and online. Once that happens, I’ll shine the light right back to you.

My only question is, which town is next? After all, we are creating a 'regional liveability' movement, here.