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Michael Santos

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Tom Peters wrote many books describing how to build great companies and communities. He taught that community organizing is all about generating grassroots support. It’s about identifying the people around you with whom you can create a shared, passionate cause. Building great communities empower us to ignore conventional wisdom and to live by very different rules.

Every day we make choices. Good choices accelerate us toward what we’re striving to become. Other options keep us stuck in our current situation. Bad decisions make things worse for us. As a person serving a long sentence, I knew I needed to work toward making things better—for my community and myself.

To start, I had to think about the community I served.

Like thousands of other people, I hated being in prison. No one wants to live separately from family. As Americans, we don’t like living with so many rules that government agencies impose. Prison rules limit the progress we can make. 

Simultaneously, the prison community expects people to serve time in ways that restrict growth or productivity. Further, many people in society make it clear that they want to ostracize anyone with a criminal background.

Committed to making things better, I had to think about the community. 

By introspecting, I could question strategies that prepare people for success despite the obstacles. 

I looked to mentors like Mahatma Gandhi and Marcus Aurelius. Reading books about their lives taught me that we all had the power to make positive changes—even if we’re struggling. 

Mahatma Gandhi inspired me because of the way he responded to living in oppression. He wrote that he wanted “to live as the change he wanted to see in the world.” 

Marcus Aurelius grew up in an impoverished orphanage. Yet by building a positive mindset, he learned how to improve his community. He rose to become one of the most influential people in the Roman empire.

When we change the way we think, we start changing our community. We create an inspiring story that other people can support. Through those efforts, we build healthier communities.

We must start with an awareness of what’s happening around us. The more we’re aware of our current surroundings, the better we can prepare ourselves to engineer a change. 

We need to invest time and energy to understand other people’s positions. 

Stephen Covey, an influential American author, wrote that we should seek to understand others before trying to make those people understand us.

When we know the systems in place, we can begin preparing pathways to change and improve—regardless of external factors.

As we advance, something magical happens. People in the broader community become aware of us. 

Throughout my journey, opportunities opened because I sowed good seeds to grow a community and support network. By seeking to understand the community and working to make the broader community aware of my efforts to improve, I returned to society strong, with my dignity intact. 

  • If you’re going through a challenging time, consider strategies to build a stronger community to help you.
  • How would you describe your community?
  • In what ways have you worked to improve your community?
  • What other communities could you nurture to enhance prospects for your success?
  • What strategies could make you a better candidate for success in your community?

Word of the day: ostracize / Define ostracize:

Use ostracize in a sentence:

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