Guest Editor – Kim Kelling (LT 28)

I kept putting off applying for Leadership Tallahassee. I had all kinds of reasons why not to do it. Who else would be in the class and isn’t it just a big clique? Luckily for me, Alan Williams (LT 18) was persistent and I finally applied and was accepted into LT class 28. When it came time to board the bus for the kick-off retreat, I had a sense of dread as if I was heading off to sleep-away camp. Everyone seemed younger than me with better gear. I anticipated a very long weekend.

The LT experience pushed me out of my comfort zone. I was meeting people that were different from me. Many were quite a bit younger, a few older and all with different perspectives and interests. As the year progressed I found myself looking forward to each program day and the chance to interact with this new group of folks. What happened?

Unfortunately we live in contentious times polarized in our points of view where civil conversations can be challenging. It is so much easier to surround ourselves with like-minded folks, select the news that reflects our own views, avoid political issues and then wonder why the country seems so divided. How does this new reality impact our sense of community?

In Sebastian Junger’s new book, Tribe, he examines the concept of tribal life. He defines tribe as people that you feel compelled to feed and defend where the collective experience is paramount. Contrast that to modern life that values competition and individuality. He examines soldiers in the military where deep bonds are formed and issues of race, religion and politics have no bearing on whether a soldier has your back. Valor, loyalty and selflessness are what’s valued. This deep connection to each other is actually a benefit of military service and many struggle to find their footing back in civilian life.

I realized that my experience with Leadership Tallahassee was like being part of a tribe. We spent a year together getting to know each other, looking past differences to find common ground. Class discussions with a variety of viewpoints are woven into each program day. Time spent getting to know each other builds communal loyalty and even those with different perspectives and backgrounds become friends. The Affordable Healthcare Act was being debated during my LT year and I had many in-depth conversations with some of my classmates about the pros and cons of the legislation. We didn’t all agree but we heard each other out and I believe that we all walked away from those conversations better informed. Being part of the LT28 tribe and the power of the collective experience allowed for ideological diversity.

It has been seven years since I got on that bus to Jacksonville and began my LT journey. As we enter into our 34th year of Leadership Tallahassee, the tribe keeps growing. Over 1360 (give or take) folks have become part of this tribe. We are diverse in all aspects of life but together we are united in the common goal of making where we live a better place. That’s the power of Leadership Tallahassee.