I watched and listened intently as the elderly Chinese couple sitting beside me on the airplane talked between themselves, studying the menu just given to them by the flight attendant. One side was printed in English, the other in Chinese. They smiled and shook their heads in greeting as the attendant stopped at our row and asked what our selection would be. They communicated their choice by pointing. The same flight attendant came by with customs declaration forms. She asked, “Are you Chinese citizens?” The couple looked at one another, back to the attendant, and shook their heads. She asked again, a little louder, “Do you have your passport?” The couple exchanged looks again, this time, with a little more anxiety, then tried to respond in Chinese. After a couple more questions from the attendant, she shook her head, and said she’d have to come back with someone who could communicate with them.

The Chinese couple appeared distraught—and somewhat fearful. A few moments later, a tall, young, blonde attendant stopped at our aisle and began speaking—in what sounded to me— perfect Chinese. The Chinese couple relaxed, grinned from ear to ear, and began conversing. The problem was solved; they could communicate.

Communication is a beautiful thing. Unfortunately, communication isn’t always easy. Communication involves not just words, but inflection of voice, body language, and eye contact—things not yet incorporated in our technology world. I’ve often thought about how our city fathers outlined policy and planned our future with face-to-face meetings. As we face a challenging and pivotal year for our community, I would suggest the word of the year to be “communicate.” Communicate in person as much as possible.

In recent weeks, the city council has held numerous public forums for community input, as has District 150. New leaders at the Heartland Partnership and the Greater Peoria Regional Airport visited with community organizations to understand partnerships of the past and possibilities for the future. The Regional Museum Collaboration and Peoria NEXT are two new organizations developed in the past year to harness the power of collaboration, which will strengthen our community.

When scientists at NCAUR met researchers at the Caterpillar tech facility and faculty at the U of I College of Medicine, they both responded the same way: “I had no idea.” Possibilities are endless now that there are faces to the names; trust and understanding are being developed along with bright ideas that will eventually make central Illinois a prominent bio-medical-technology research destination.

City leaders must make difficult decisions in the next couple of months. Half of the members of the city council must be elected; add to that the search and selection of a new city manager, and perhaps many other valuable long-term employees who are retiring. As decisions are being made, remember the importance of calling upon the wisdom of the past to help implement the vision of the present.

There may be times when an interpreter is needed; sometimes we may need to communicate in writing. Nothing, however, replaces face-to-face communication. IBI