It’s been while since I last sat in a classroom. The early 90s to be exact… back in the days when gas cost just a dollar a gallon and the Dow Jones Industrial average hovered around 3300.
It feels like an eternity ago.
So, you can appreciate the jitters running through me as I stepped into the Lenexa Leadership Kansas classroom last week — a room with 30 big-wig business leaders from all across the Sunflower State.
I felt in a bit over my head, but as soon as the class started it all slipped away. I fell back into the rhythm of listening and gleaning a bunch of great information and in between class member intros, a video on the history of Kansas and a presentation on our state’s geography, I discovered something.
Our class has a theme.
Evidently, each year’s group has a different theme and ours is one near and dear to my heart. We are talking about the urban/rural divide and how we could work together to bridge that gap and help rural communities not only survive, but thrive in the decades to come.
I’ve heard for years, and agreed for the most part, that the eastern side of the Kansas thinks the state ends at Salina. I’ve seen it. I have lived all over this state and know how easy it is to get drawn into your own issues and to ignore what isn’t in front of your face.
I also know many of my fellow northwest Kansans don’t hold out much hope that the other side of the state would listen to us or honestly, even cared… and I had to agree.
But I think we’re wrong.
My little pessimistic self was pleasantly surprised last week to discover that they know we’re here, and they are a bit curious about life on the western side of the state. They just don’t know how to help.
Through our discussions my new friends realized that their tried and true answers are not a one-size-fits-all… and I discovered that at least these 30 business leaders want to make a difference and are curious enough to ask questions, listen to the answers and make adjustments accordingly.
It opened up some amazing discussions… the soul-searching kind for both sides.
We still have several months of classes to go and lots of hours of discussions left before the end of this year’s Leadership Kansas class, but I think if there is a group that can come up with some new ideas on how the two sides of the state can work together, it may be this group. They’re committed to the process, open minded about our needs, and willing to work together to come up with some solutions.
And that may be the biggest lesson we learn yet.