Nebraska Values: Community, Work Ethic and – Hope?

Summertime in Nebraska brings with it some pretty wonderful things: corn on the cob, road trips down I-80 to lakes and campgrounds, and baby farm animals getting big enough to run and play.  I don’t care if talking about how much I love this wholesome Nebraska summertime stuff makes me sound like your Grandma.  The Heartland in June is a good place to be.

Last summer, that was reinforced for me as Nebraska Appleseed held a series of roundtable discussions all across the state to discuss Nebraska values and ways to build opportunity in our state, as part of our Economic Opportunity Campaign.  Over and over, people talked about the importance of community – of the way that Nebraskans feel a genuine sense of connection and concern for one another.  Another reoccurring theme was the value and pride people have in our Midwestern work ethic.  Nebraskans place a deep-seated value on work as a way of improving lives and getting ahead.

At the same time that we were holding roundtable discussions across the state, the presidential election was in full swing and much of the public dialogue was centered around hope – what is was and what it meant to people.  In fact, a recent Gallup poll found that, despite the recession, 95% of people predict that their lives will be better five years from now than they are today: http://www.kansascity.com/105/story/1220186.html

Yet, as we traveled, the word “hope” did not come up in our Nebraska values discussion.  So is hope a Nebraska value?  Nebraskans tend to discuss Hope’s cousins – Hard Work and Pragmatic Thoughtfulness.  Nebraskans know that without Hard Work and Pragmatism, Hope is an empty promise.

But it seems that we might need to be reminded that hard work and pragmatic thoughtfulness, without a vision of the future, simply becomes tedium.  Really, hope was one of the values Nebraska was built on.  Pioneers came west to the Nebraska territory with hope, with a determined intent to plow the ground and build a life. They didn’t come with any promise that their dreams would be fulfilled, but with the possibility was enough to keep them moving forward.

Clearly, initiatives to build opportunity in Nebraska must bring together the values of hard work, community, and practicality that are alive and well in our state.  But they also must embrace hopefulness and possibility and vision for the future. This unique Nebraska combination is thriving in Bloomington, a rural town in Northeast Nebraska that has worked hard to capitalize on the possibilities of the new green economy by building wind turbines – and allowing more work opportunities for everyone from rachers to restaurant owners: http://www.journalstar.com/news/local/doc4a2b2df19357f128704107.txt

After our roundtable discussions last summer, Nebraska Appleseed created a Statement of Principles for our Economic Opportunity Campaign – an effort to build values-based public policy in Nebraska.  We believe that like in Bloomington, these policies and principles can capitalize on Nebraska values to build opportunity and possibility – and yes, hope – in our state.  Check them out here, and if you think we did a good job, sign on in support.

Together, we can build a Nebraska that is a good place to be – in all seasons and for all Nebraskans.

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