Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Column 102 – Black Swans

We hear a lot about where Incline residents differ – beach access, dog parks, almost issue that is raised seems to be an occasion for division that is often acrimonious between various people in the community, and you can't tell the sides without a program.


I think this focus on controversy is unfortunate on a couple of counts. First, I think it reflects the views of a very small number of people (and I'm among them) who are able, by means ranging from reason to fear-mongering, to get a larger number of people riled up. Secondly, I think it obscures some fundamental areas where IV/CB residents come together rather than move apart.


Last week I spent a few hours at what was billed as a trade fair put on by the Chamber of Commerce. One thing that struck me was how many volunteer and non-profit organizations that weren't really about "trade" were represented there – the hospital was giving blood pressure tests and advice on health, the Rim Trail, TRPA, IVGID, Rotary, Red, White and Tahoe Blue, Tahoe Women's Services were there, and I know there were others I'm not recalling as I write this. The Republican Advocates were there, not just to promote their view but offering voter registration to those of any political persuasion.


In addition to these organizations I noticed how many of the businesses that were there were supporters of community efforts – I won't name names here because I know I'll leave some out and because so many of the businesses that support the community weren't there, but you know who they are.


While we do argue a lot, giving of ourselves – time, money, and talent – is a deep-rooted part of the culture of our community, and that, I think, is what makes us a community. How many towns of our size have a huge facility that is completely dedicated to supporting community efforts the way that the Parasol Foundation and Collaboration are? At how many events like the Trade Fair would people who have invested considerable time and money to promote their business take the time to seek out an opportunity to volunteer for the anti-DUI effort or to run over and buy ducks for the Red, White, and Tahoe Blue duck races?


I don't want to sound saccharine, but I think we let acrimonious differences get in the way of our really appreciating what we have here that is more fundamental. I find that if I can sit down and talk with people and get past the rhetoric and reaction (mine as well as theirs) even those with views that are diametrically opposed to mine and even in those cases where I find their views repugnant, what is behind those views is never evil or mal-intended. I don't know why this surprises me so often – if I look at myself as a test case, I am never mal-intended by my own lights – even my most boneheaded moves have the best of intentions behind them – so why would that not be true of everyone else?


The philosopher David Hume once said that no number of observations of white swans will prove that all swans are white, but it takes only one observation of a black swan to disprove it. This is interesting in a lot of ways, but particularly for this discussion it points up one way that we come to focus on what divides us – we encounter someone who, for whatever reason, we react to negatively – Bill Clinton, George Bush, Michael Moore, Dick Cheney, whoever – and the logic goes like this (to paraphrase Hume): "No number of observations of good (progressives, conservatives, environmentalists, beach-accessers) will prove that all (…) are good people, but this one observation proves that they are not."


My point is a simple one – let's spend three times as much time and talk on what unites us so that that remains the context for what divides us, and let's remember that the word and concenpt "community" comes from "commonality."

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