First of all, I want to thank all the readers of this column for taking the time this year to consider what I have written regarding issues I feel are important based on the areas I am involved in our community. I hope I have provided some insight, and I know I have generated a dialogue with readers that is valuable for me to hear. Regardless of whether you have agreed with my viewpoint, I continue to learn and listen to the issues those in our community care about, and hope the opportunities present themselves where we can work together to make meaningful changes.

In fact, change has been the common theme to many of the issues concerning our community. Change, whether gradual, or stark, has seemed to always mean a loss of control. I think we all agree that we choose to live "out here" because we want less intrusion from the outside in. Any change has conditioned us to expect we are losing something more and reducing the community we care about to a conversation about how we liked the way it used to be.

People in this community want change. They want change that lessens the impact of issues on their household budget, that improves the quality and safety of our community, and that wrestles back control of our local community from those making decisions far from us that have direct impact on us. However, they want change in the ways that preserve the things, places, and institutions they love within our community.

In the past, many rural communities managed change by working together to solve cross-jurisdictional issues. People knew one another, people respected one another, and people gave one another the benefit of the doubt. Communities sustained because the love for that community was the base that we all had in common. Based on my many interactions with people this year, this community spirit still exists, however, the forums for it to strengthen and grow are constantly under attack from a growing level of frustration coordinated by our sole reliance on the "digital community."

Recently, in our rural communities, our reaction to change has been to isolate ourselves as much as possible from it. Individually, and as families, we have chosen to "circle the wagons" to these forces and try to battle them ourselves or avoid them, creating an erosion of the community fabric that bonds all of us together. Certainly, the "digital community" has opened up a path of least resistance to feel connected to others, but only to offer an outlet of frustration, as that connection does not have the bond to the institutions and the physical community that could channel the frustration into a force mitigating the negative aspects of change.

My challenge to those reading this is to take that frustration with, or fear of, change past the stage of venting into a canyon of hopelessness and motivate yourself to build more relationships with those in our community. Without a direct feedback channel, the leaders within our community are left to assumptions only because there is an absence of productive discussions about the change we all are experiencing. Also, do not let the adversarial nature of our national issues be the example for how conflict should play out at our local levels. Unlike those we see constantly bantering through the media channels, our want for common-sense solutions can be had by patiently understanding each other's point of views and treating each other with respect. It is more important to understand each other's context, to identify each other's values, than to win. That understanding will be the launching point for the lasting change that sustains the aspects of this community that we are passionate about.

Finally, I want to commend those who took the initiative to run for local offices during this past election. Small, rural communities often struggle to produce a single candidate, let alone enough to have serious elections where voters have options. Regardless of the outcome of our local elections, it was encouraging to know that there are many people in this community who care - the voters and the candidates - that will continue our ongoing struggle to create meaningful change. Change that is respectful to those before us, representative of those among us, and empowering to those to come. Again, thank you for reading, have a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

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Osakis Voices is a rotating column written by community leaders who share their thoughts in their field of expertise.