Now and then I’ll receive a piece of mail that contains a dollar bill. These tend to be from companies that want information from me. You probably get similar mailers arriving at your home or office. Most of us do.
What I find intriguing about these dollars in the mail is that I cannot recall the name of a single company I’ve received one from. I remember the dollar, but only in generic terms. Why they chose to send cash through the mail, or what they hope to impress upon me is a mystery. I simply don’t retain that information because it’s not important to me and they make no attempt to make it important to me. Even though they gave me money I have no recollection of them, no brand loyalty, no sense of purpose or belonging.
Being on the receiving end of a dollar is nice. It’s not going to change anyone’s standard of living, or make a significant dent in their ability to pay the mortgage, or the electric bill, or the car insurance — but it’s a nice gesture. Nice, but bland. Pedestrian. You might even say it’s an unremarkable expression of interest in the recipient.
Personally, I would rather experience the perception of respect than the gift of a dollar. I think that’s true for many of us.
Because respect is more valuable than a dollar. It’s more valuable than $10.
Respect has to be earned, but it has to be offered in a genuine fashion, as well. I’d like to think we’re on the road to showing respect for each other in aviation. Perhaps I’m wrong. But I don’t think so. I see a new day, a brighter future, and a real opportunity opening up for us.
I wonder if you’ve gotten the same impression. Perhaps, if you squint into the distance just right, you’ll be able to see it too.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) has made a pivot. A good one in my estimation. They’ve replaced the massive annual Summit with several smaller, more community based events. That’s a major step in the right direction, because local events are more personal and more easily managed. They allow for greater participation on the whole, by creating opportunities for people to attend an event occurring within a couple hundred miles of home. Many of those same people just don’t have the means or the opportunity to attend a similar large event held a couple thousand miles away.
Access is improved at smaller events, too. And by access I mean real, meaningful interaction between the men and women in the field and the men and women at the home office.
Maryland is a lovely place, but it’s not Texas, or Kansas, or Oregon, or southern California. It’s not Florida or Maine either. It’s not less than any other location in the US, any more than it is superior. It’s simply a home base. And a logically situated home base, as well. But just as a congressman or senator can lose touch with the folks back home if they spend too much time in Washington, the same can be true for lobbyists and advocacy groups. Fortunately, AOPA saw the writing on the wall, developed an action plan, and put it into effect.
The odds are good you don’t know your congressman. At least not in a meaningful way. You have probably never had a serious discussion with either of your senators, either. Not one-on-one, or even in a small group. And these are people who actually campaign and go out of their way to meet you every two or six years. At least they try to leave that impression while they raise money, talk to small groups of big dollar contributors, and stand up straight in front of the television cameras whenever the big, bright light comes one.
AOPA was at risk of being painted with that same broad brush of disinterest. There were rumblings of a disconnect between Frederick and the organization’s base supporters. In recent years the grapevine has not been particularly kind to the largest and most effective advocacy group in aviation. And then something happened. Something good. Something hopeful.
The shift at AOPA shows every indication of an organization that is attempting to connect with its base. To share a sense of purpose in a meaningful way. To listen. To show respect to its membership and potential membership.
This could be big.
The fly in the ointment is now us, the folks on the outside. The onus has shifted to the members, the prospective members, the aviation enthusiasts who have become jaded, tired, less-than-enthusiastic supporters of the cause, and just plain old distrustful of institutions and their staff. It is now our turn to step up, speak out, share our honest impressions of the industry and how we can stabilize and revitalize it.
Respect is a two-way street. The big dog has shown a real willingness to respect us, to come to our doorstep, to listen to our woes, and plans, and dreams, and yes – even our complaints. It is now up to us to reciprocate.
This summer is our first opportunity in years to extend a hand to AOPA on the local and regional level, trust in them, show them the respect they are trying so hard to give us, and ask the big question that we must ask if we are to truly be successful in the coming years.
The question is this, “How can I help you protect and expand the industry I love?”
I’m on board. How about you?