Brien’s Blog

Artistic Explorers

Brien R. Sörne
August 23, 2023

Unlike entertainment, artistic expression is directed by the vision of the artist. Entertainment is directed by the demands of the audience. An artist challenges us with questions. An entertainer supplies us with answers. One is intended to make us comfortable. The other has little interest in our comfort.

The Heart of the Matter

Brien R. Sörne
February 23, 2023

My sister was a member of the organization Students for a Democratic Society and an avid participant in anti-war marches in the ‘60s. My father never understood her anger. My father was an officer in the United States Army who left at home his new bride, my mother, to spend nearly two years serving in the Pacific during World War II. My sister never understood his devotion.

I spent most of my youth trying to help them get along thinking that somehow I could fix their relationship so that we could finally be a happy family. It was stressful and painful for everyone involved. What I didn’t realize was that they didn’t want it fixed. They chose to live that way. Their relationship was what some family therapists would call “conflict-habituated.” Oddly enough, it was their mutual distrust and conflict that actually kept them connected. Like two people who are handcuffed together, they were forced to endure one another, but are not devoted to one another’s success and well-being.

Maybe it was their fear of letting go of past hurts, or maybe it was their determination to defend themselves from the outside world, but in any case, their unwillingness to open up to one another kept them from building a relationship based on their shared interests in art, nature, theater and literature, and above all, mutual respect. They focused on the matters that divided them rather than the heart of the matter, namely that they were both members of the same family.

Relationships of this kind are limited and limiting. The people trapped inside of them remain more bound than bonded to one another. Sadly, they experience little freedom and flexibility in life. They don’t tolerate differences in others very easily nor accommodate changes in their circumstances very well. They don’t live as freely and openly. They don’t share with one another the joy of discovery and the challenge of considering new ideas. While they yearn for a more joyful life, they seem powerless to live it. If this way of living seems self-defeating, and somewhat irrational, it is.

These days, while we witness this kind of irrational rancor between opposing parties on a national scale, I am reminded of my family history. In a manner that seems all too familiar, people in various groups of various persuasions remain in conflict with one another without any apparent willingness to work through these conflicts in the context of mutual respect. They find it necessary to defend their position and attack their opposing party rather than seek a common good. And, like my father and sister, I suspect they would rather settle for a tethered, limited existence of habitual conflict rather than risk the uncertainty of compromise. The cycle of insults and counter-punches drives their mutual dislike and distrust and only serves to separate them further while those most vulnerable and dependent among us are left wondering if their needs will ever be attended to. Indeed, it is stressful and painful for all of us.

Yet, the truth remains: each of us can choose to live differently. In all of our dealings with one another, we can seek common ground. We can affirm the things we share and not be focused on our differences, exclusively. In my life, the experience of God’s love often has moved me past my emotional reactions to seek out ways to understand and even bond with those who don’t share my beliefs. Remarkably, that same love has empowered me to care more about the other person’s best interests rather than focusing on protecting and defending my own. I have learned to listen more carefully. I have learned to value people over principles more often. Most of all, I am encouraged every day to stay focused on what I know to be the heart of the matter.

Segregated Tallahassee

Brien R. Sörne
August 23, 2022

There is a stirring in Tallahassee. It began many years ago. It is a stirring of thought, and of intention. Some of it is by design, and I think some of it is by default or inevitability. The design portion has come by way of enterprising entrepreneurs, public officials, and community planners. The rest of it is the result of in-migration.

People have come to Tallahassee for opportunities in education and have stayed. Others have come looking for a more relaxed lifestyle, while others have retreated to Tallahassee after having been forced out of other communities by disasters of one kind or another, like hurricanes, forest fires, and floods.

Like the change that such natural disasters bring to any landscape, the shifting demographic changes in this part of the world are challenging old economic systems and the underlying mindset that has dominated the region for generations. Of late, the established status quo that supports this old thinking has met such challenges with various kinds of reactions, responses, and resistance that are not altogether unpredictable. There have been the modest accommodations that many people consider tokenism, along with a flurry of public meetings concerned with economic development, affordable housing, race relations, land development, and the use of public funds. Of late, more harsh criticisms and public backlash from community leaders have helped to expose more clearly the degree of entrenchment that holds Tallahassee in check.

Six years ago to the day, Richard Florida and Charlotta Mellander published Segregated City: The Geography of Economic Segregation in America’s Metros. Among its many revelations regarding economic, educational, residential segregation in Tallahassee and communities across the country came the revelation that Tallahassee topped the list among metros of comparable size. Local power brokers and their emissaries decried the validity of the research and one business leader was quoted in the local newspaper as saying that what was being described did not refer to the “real” Tallahassee.

While the old guard remains vigilant in protecting their domain, the relentless, emerging, evolving mentality of the new, more diverse Tallahassee continues to advance. Like the impact of insurmountable storms, fires, and floods, this collective push for a new paradigm is changing the social and cultural landscape and redefining how we go about finding opportunities for advancement and creating a more integrated Tallahassee.

Tallahassee’s New Day Dawning

Brien R. Sörne
July 23, 2020
Construction of a pedestrian bridge across S. Monroe Street at Cascades Park has begun.

Every week I talk with people across town, across the region, and across the country who say “something is happening in Tallahassee” or “Tallahassee is emerging and finding a new place in the world”. Talking with a group of businesspeople earlier this evening, I heard more of the same. Realtors, web developers, bankers, business owners… they all talked about the resurgence and the redefinition of Tallahassee’s cultural and economic landscape.
I agree and I think some of this is by design, some by desire, and some by disappointment. Many of us who have been pursuing business opportunities for a number of years have been disappointed and even discouraged by old rules and old concepts of how decisions are to be made and who is granted access to the decision-making process. Mostly, the decisions about how land is to be used, how funding is to be granted, how contracts are to be awarded, and whether businesses, universities, and municipalities can cooperate toward mutual gain have been reserved for a few conclaves of privileged individuals. In the last ten years, there has been a growing desire to change these rules and explore newer concepts of community and economic development. Organizations like KCCI, Leadership Tallahassee, Town & Gown, and NEBA have come online with fresh vision and resolve. The results have been remarkable.
Cascades Park and the revitalization of Gaines Street and the All Saints District are examples of designed rediscovery and redefinition. The development of these common access areas speaks to the valuing of our community at large rather than gated communities for a few. Likewise, the design of the Tallahassee Music Week, Tally Fiesta, the Tallahassee Sand Festival, and Word of South Festival underscore our cultural common ground over the interests of a private organization like Spring Time Tallahassee. A new day is here and ready for each of us to consider how we will live it. Carpe Diem.

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