If there is one thing I hear most often when talking to friends and neighbors in Bakersfield, it is a belief that our city’s best days lie ahead. There’s a growing community of residents — young and old[er], lifers and transplants — who share a vision for a better Bakersfield.
The beginning of each year provides a natural opportunity to pause and consider the direction our lives are headed. What is true for individuals is true for groups. If we want to bring forth the better Bakersfield we dream of, we must do the work needed to turn our shared dreams into a vision and mission, with goals and objectives to rally behind.
But, even the best action plans are worthless without individuals willing to step into the trenches. If we wish to build a healthier, more thriving city, each of us has to become that individual. The better Bakersfield we aspire to be is built on a foundation of engaged citizens. And those engaged citizens must be informed, virtuous and involved.
It is critical that we become a more informed citizenry. But a more informed Bakersfield, while a step in the right direction, is not necessarily a better Bakersfield. As we learn more, we must also grow more virtuous.
But what does it mean to be virtuous? Which virtues do we pursue?
According to New York Times columnist David Brooks, there is an important distinction between “résumé virtues” and “eulogy virtues.”
Résumé virtues are the ones you bring with you to work and that help with external success. They’re likely found on your LinkedIn profile. Skills like project management, public speaking, team leadership and budgeting.
Eulogy virtues are deeper. They’re what form your legacy. How you are remembered after you’re gone. Whether you were kind, brave, humble or honest. While most of us would say that eulogy virtues are more important that résumé virtues, in practice we elevate our résumés.
The internet and magazines are littered with lists offering the latest productivity hacks. Non-fiction bestsellers' lists are full of the latest self-improvement books. In fact, I’m currently reading "Your Best Year Ever," a 5-step plan for achieving one's most important goals.
Even our schools, once fountains of civic education, have caught the résumé virtue bug. Instead of cultivating virtuous citizens, their focus is churning out graduates with the skills and habits needed to succeed in the 21st century economy.
Job skills and career readiness are important. Income, unemployment rates and educational attainment are part of a community’s identity. But they are not the core.
No matter how many jobs we attract, the number of new businesses that open in downtown Bakersfield, or our schools’ Smarter Balance Results, there will always be a bigger city with a more bustling central business district and higher achieving students.
This is the problem with defining success and worth by outside achievements. To paraphrase the Gospel of Mark, what good is it to gain the whole world but forfeit your soul? What is true for us as individuals is just as true for a community.
If we are to build a better Bakersfield, we cannot neglect the soul of our city.
It’s the soul of a city that persists and holds people together when recession hits.
It’s the soul of a city that transcends class, race, politics and geography to create a common civic identity.
It’s that soul of a city that transforms it from a place to live and work into a place people want to call home.
What does it mean to be a Bakersfieldian?
I’d like to think it means being neighborly. Treating everyone with equal dignity. Being rational, calm and understanding. Hard-working and self-sacrificing. Never backing down from a struggle, but always willing to endure, persist and overcome adversity.
I’ll be the first to admit my personality is primed for achievement and the résumé virtues. I can easily identify the eulogy virtues where I need reflection and lots of practice.
Bakersfieldian doesn’t roll off the tongue like Angeleno or New Yorker. But at the end of the day, they can keep their tall buildings and trendy restaurants. What we need to become a better Bakersfield can’t be measured in meters and Michelin stars.
What we need are people with shared virtues and a united purpose, each working to become a better version of themselves and create a better city for us all.
A better Bakersfield needs better Bakersfieldians.
Fortunately, they’re not lacking.