Sunday, November 28, 2004

Column 12: Community

by Ed Gurowitz

Incline Village/Crystal Bay is often referred to as a “community.” The dictionary defines community as

a unified body of individuals: people with common interests living in a particular area; an interacting population of various kinds of individuals in a common location; a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society; a body of persons or nations having a common history or common social, economic, and political interests.

Incline fits all these definitions pretty well, raising the question of why, when issues of local import (the Chateau, the Dog Park, etc.) come up for discussion, do they engender such acrimony and divisiveness? And why, when national and international issues are on the table, as in the recent election, does it get even worse?

I took up writing a political column to provide a balance to Jim Clark’s representation of the Libertarian Conservative, and particularly the Conservative Republican point of view on things. I would say that I represent a more or less classical Liberal point of view, and (although not in any official capacity) the Liberal Democrat point of view. If Jim’s views resonate with those of Presidents Reagan and Bush, I would say that mine are somewhere between Presidents Kennedy and Clinton. I believe that, even in the heat of the campaign, Jim and I maintained a reasoned and respectful dialogue (perhaps more respectful of each other than of our respective candidates, but respectful nonetheless).

A couple of things have struck me from the beginning, though. First, the number of people who identify with my point of view and who appreciated what they saw as courage that they feel it takes for me to make my views public. Second, the number of times friends have talked about the “enemies” I am making through my writing. I find both of these expressions odd and disturbing.

I grew up in a small town in Upstate New York. My parents were registered Republicans, and when I was old enough to realize that their political views were not necessarily those of the conservative Republicans around them, they told me that, as refugees from totalitarian rule, they did not dare identify themselves publicly as outside the prevailing political regime, and while what they did in the voting booth was secret, in public they would keep a low profile. Living in Incline I’m starting to understand what they meant.

I don’t know if I’m making enemies – I honestly hope not – and I have never lacked the courage (or whatever it takes) to speak my mind. I firmly believe that there is wisdom in dialogue that is not available in any single position, and there is considerable evidence to support the view that difference, when it is nurtured and developed, will produce innovative and creative answers.

I hope it isn’t true that it is unsafe to be a Liberal or a Democrat in Incline, but it’s come up often enough to make me suspect that there may be some truth to this view. I would hope that most people in a community like ours would have the wisdom to judge people by their intent and their commitment, not by whether they agree with their point of view. A favorite author of mine is fond of saying (in jest, I think) that the first definition of an intelligent person is someone who agrees with him. For me an intelligent person is one who values learning from others’ point of view and who prizes innovation and creativity in meeting our community’s problems. Hopefully now that the elections are resolved we can start to listen to each other on local issues and to appreciate what each of us has to offer. If we only listen to those with whom we agree, there will be no learning and precious little in the way of progress.

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