Buck up Rhode Island, you deserve to love yourself

Scott Wolf | Grow Smart Rhode Island executive director

Rhode Island has vast, untapped potential. But to achieve it we must overcome a chronic problem – collective low self-esteem and knee-jerk negativity.

This is not to say that Rhode Island is without serious challenges and unforced errors. However, we deserve a more realistic self-image, one that moves beyond self-flagellation to acknowledge our many assets and recent noteworthy accomplishments, ranging from Providence’s urban renaissance and our dramatic unemployment rate decline, to our high rankings for energy efficiency and health coverage, our rehab of 200-plus historic buildings since 2002 and our major cleanup of Narragansett Bay.

These impressive advances should deter us from concluding that our remaining missteps are part of an “Only in Rhode Island” phenomenon.

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Although Rhode Island is distinctive, beautiful, quirky, intimate and blessedly diverse, we are generally not unique in our problems or in our imperfect way of dealing with them.

We don’t, for instance, have a monopoly on corruption, fortunately failing to make a Fortune Magazine list of the 10 most-corrupt states. And as disturbing as Rhode Island’s struggles have been in establishing a new state-benefit processing system, a Google search revealed five other states with similar problems.

So the “Only in Rhode Island” mantra is overused and frequently inaccurate. Why does this matter? Because assuming that we are uniquely incompetent, corrupt and shortsighted sets up a perverse syndrome of cynicism, and easy excuses for disengagement. For our own future well-being, it’s time to move beyond this lazy and self-destructive thinking.