Why NIMBY?

While driving to meet a friend for breakfast one Sunday morning I was wrestling with an important decision and whispered one of those “God, if you could just give me some direction here…” prayers. My actual words were more along the lines of, “God, I would be happy with one word, just one word that would give me some clarity.” Immediately, the word NIMBY came to mind. “Not In My Back Yard” is not a new term to me, but admittedly, it wasn’t quite what I had expected and didn’t provide the immediate clarity that I sought. By the time breakfast was over, however, NIMBY had taken on a whole new meaning to me. I don’t recall what I ate for breakfast that morning, but the words scrawled all over the back of my placemat after our brainstorming session are firmly etched in my mind.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the acronym NIMBY can be traced back to a Christian Science Monitor article published in 1980. Traditionally, the expression has been used in relation to those who oppose some type of development that is viewed as undesirable – the construction of a new road, landfill, airport, power lines, or big box store; the taking over of privately owned property for development by government of commercial interests; or the placement of something like a halfway house, prison or homeless shelter in close proximity to where we live or work. The emphasis is typically on the my, on how the proposed project will negatively affect the quality of my life or the value of my real estate. Ironically, many of us give little thought to using the goods and services provided by these developments once they are constructed in someone else’s back yard. That morning, for the first time I thought of NIMBY in a different way and began to ask, what would happen if we applied this NIMBY principle with a slightly different twist to issues of social injustice and more specifically modern day slavery?

If we pay attention to the news today we constantly hear about the challenges we are facing in the 21st century – violence, crime, homelessness, drugs, poverty, human trafficking. I could make a very long list and would find myself feeling overwhelmed and ill-equipped to do much of anything to bring about change, especially on a global scale. But, what if I chose to become more aware of what is happening to people locally – right where I live, work, shop and dine – and adopted the NIMBY stance of “Not In My Back Yard” relative to these matters? My point is not that we shouldn’t care about what is happening to people in other parts of the world, or beyond our own back yard or neighborhood; it’s about our spheres of influence and our willingness to make a difference where and when we can, both individually and collectively. The most important change begins within us. If we refuse to accept the myth that our actions are insignificant we have already made a difference. We can create extraordinary change within our own communities, setting the stage for a more widespread movement, one that extends way beyond our own back yards.

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