Along the Indiana Toll Road, just west of Gary, stretches the expansive American Bridge Co. site.
Founded in 1900 as a subsidiary of U.S. Steel, American Bridge has built some of the largest bridges and buildings in the world, including the Mackinac Bridge, the Oakland Bay Bridge, the Empire State Building and the Willis Tower. Every time I pass this site, I think of the value of bridges and how they are vital to our way of life.
Bridges expand our world immensely by taking us over obstacles and connecting us to otherwise unreachable opportunities. They make it easy to explore new places, meet with people and facilitate commerce. We use them every day without giving them a second thought.
Like physical bridges, relational bridges also are vital to our lives. Our ability to connect and collaborate with others is essential to our success. Indeed, the more healthy relational bridges we have, the further we can go and the more we can accomplish.
Our talents, resources and knowledge are limited and we can only do so much as individuals. But, if we are skilled at building relationships of trust they soon turn into healthy bridges of progress.
Here are a few of the traits I see in effective bridge builders; They ...
* are slow to criticize and quick to encourage
* don't use inflammatory language or personalize the debate
* share information freely and are quick to lend a hand
* are determined to understand the other person's point of view
* understand the importance of the team concept; and
* put the success of their community or organization above their personal agenda.
As an elected official, I have observed that some people are talented bridge builders who are moving their communities forward with the goodwill they have built. Unfortunately, there also are a few leaders who seem to have a penchant for blowing up bridges to gain notoriety or perhaps a perceived personal advantage. It is so hard to build consensus in the world of government and politics and so easy to destroy it.
When elected leaders are bridge builders, their communities benefit. When they are not, their communities suffer. For the region to survive and thrive in the next few decades we will need stronger bridges of collaboration and cooperation between our cities and towns. I see more and more evidence of that occurring. That's a good trend.
Jon Costas is mayor of Valparaiso. The opinions expressed in this column are the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.