My birthday is Jan. 6. I planned an evening with my husband and kids — a rare outing in the middle of the week to Fargo, N.D., to dine in an “igloo” at Crave restaurant. A year ago, on my birthday, our son moved to a spinal cord rehabilitation hospital and our family was states apart.

In the days leading up to my birthday, I was excited for the opportunity to “cocoon” with my family. But not even a fake igloo in January could cocoon me from the realities and weight I felt as an American, knowing a mob rioted the U.S. Capitol hours before. I couldn’t ignore or shake the heaviness I felt.

We listened to breaking news on the radio on the car ride. We answered the hard questions from our two younger kids. We didn’t ignore or downplay a historical moment our kids will remember.

My initial reaction was to cocoon. Unplug. Ignore the world’s problems and pretend they’re not mine. That feels like the easier route — but it’s not what I feel called to do. Through trial and error, I’ve learned my passions and voice. My change agent starts close to home. I don’t believe I can affect change nationally or globally if my home isn’t first focused, followed by my backyard and rural area.

Rather than ignore what is happening in our country right now, talk about it at home. Draw your community together. Accept differences. Understand your neighbor’s point of view. Based on a lot of mistakes and errors on my end, I’ve learned arguing on a social media platform will not win hearts or change minds for long-term effect. It doesn't mean I do not share my opinion. I do. I simply no longer argue with those who have a different opinion than me on social media platforms.

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Offline leadership needs more focus in this historical time.

Because of COVID-19 precautions, we’re not gathering at townhall forums, but there are other ways to connect in a positive format and safe experience. Numerous groups and boards now meet virtually.

Pick one person different than you to get to know. They might be your family member, co-worker, an employee, another family from your child's school, a new person who moved to your neighborhood, rural corner or town, a person from your church, a civic group you belong to. Diversify your thinking by learning from another person not currently in your circle.

Read a book from an author you’ve never read on a topic you’ve never tackled. I purchased three books for my husband and I to read this winter from authors we've never read, on race, social justice and leadership topics.

Listen more than you speak. Read more than you write.

How can we build a cohesive community with less division and more focus? Cocooning alone and ignoring the problems, even if it’s my birthday, won’t build the future I want for myself, my family, my community, my country and beyond. With each birthday, I’m blessed to celebrate in the future, I want to see my kids and their diverse friends, classmates and neighbors be firmly planted in their careers and growing a next generation of leaders.

All of us, no matter your age or lane in life, are responsible to help bring up a next generation to grow our rural regions to prosper. I want them to succeed, but to do that I recognize I need to foster and create an environment of continued learning and shared knowledge for myself as well as my children.

I believe small towns and rural areas breed leaders, and leadership can be demonstrated even in the most sparsely populated counties and states. But it starts with me. It starts at home. In his farewell address on Jan. 11, 1989, President Ronald Reagan said it best — “And let me offer lesson number one about America: All great change in America begins at the dinner table. So, tomorrow night in the kitchen I hope the talking begins.”

Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.