Friday, August 05, 2005

Column 35 - Community

I just got back from a two-week business trip to Thailand,. When I travel to other countries I can’t help but notice contrasts between those cultures and the US, and particularly our local culture here in Incline and in Nevada.

Thailand is no paradise – most of the people there live in very poor conditions, the economy is not strong, and unemployment is high, while the education level is low. Bangkok is crowded, not overly clean, and seems to be in a permanent traffic jam. And yet the people there seem genuinely happy, are courteous to a fault, deeply religious (the country is 97% Buddhist), and move through their lives with very little apparent friction.

A couple of days after I came home I was at the customer service desk at Costco in Reno and witnessed an extended exchange between a man who wanted to return a rather expensive item he’d bought some time ago and a customer service clerk. I have always found the Costco customer service people courteous and willing to go the extra mile more often than not. The clerk was explaining to this gentleman that, because he did not have a receipt and it had been a long time since he’d bought the item, she could not give him a cash refund but could give him a store credit. The “gentleman” was irate, demanding cash and refusing to accept anything else. He became abusive to the clerk and to her supervisor. Needless to say after the gentle atmosphere in Bangkok, where even bargaining at street stalls is done with good humor and a sense of “we’re all playing the game together,” I experienced a degree of culture shock at this exchange and wondered, why the difference?

An Incline resident recently asked me why I was so in favor of a community plan for the village – he and I have both been here about 10 years, and his view was that things were progressing OK on their own. I had to think about it, and realized that, for me, the need for the community to come together to plan its future stems from something I hadn’t realized until my friend asked – I don’t like it here as well as I did 10 years ago, and I don’t like the direction we’re going as a community. Too many of us, in my view, act like the man at Costco – we want what we want, and the hell with anything else. I’ve watched as the “upper social stratum” of the Village has grown more and more distant from those who live here with less, this despite the fact that the demographic of the village is growing faster at the lower end than at the upper.

So many people here have specific agendas, whether it’s golf, tennis, real estate, tourism, or just keeping the growth down. Too much of the debate has become mean-spirited – the question of what to do with the old Chateau quickly became polarized, with neither side listening to the other very much. The Chateau, the golf course, the high speed quad were all done after extensive input from the community on the Recreation Plan, yet those who opposed these vilified and mischaracterized those who were for them as committed to their own interests rather than to the community. IVGID’s highly capable and dedicated Executive Director is subjected to constant attacks and vicious rumor campaigns for having the temerity to look toward the good of the community as a whole rather than some individual’s or Trustee’s special interest.

Save the “love it or leave it” letters. I’m not saying Thailand is a better place than the US or that Bangkok is a better place to live than Incline. I am saying that we could learn something from people who value community and live a philosophy of concern for others and some degree of graciousness and if we don’t, we are in danger of continuing to be polarized along economic, social, and political lines. To this end,I urge everyone to get involved in the community planning process and to look to see how we can make Incline a more congenial place for everyone fortunate enough to live here.

No comments: