Steamboat Springs Did you notice what happened last week?
Voting against the 6-1 majority, City Council President Loui Antonucci explained that he favored a large-retail format in the area west of Steamboat Springs because he did not want to repeat a past mistake of earlier City Councils and forego an opportunity to capture a revenue stream that the city needs. Remember, in the early 1990s, before TABOR, the City Council decided against a real estate transfer fee. Whether or not residents agree with President Antonucci's vote, we do know why he voted the way he did. And we trust Loui more for his explanation.
Then, Rob Douglas surprised readers with his opposition to big box retail stores. Rob weighed the big box proposition objectively and subjectively and explained his position. Many of us probably understood and agreed with his reasoning: Let's not allow Steamboat to become Generica, USA. We realized, once again, that it pays to have an open mind. Even though Rob and Loui disagreed on the issue, their explanations suggested a pattern of civil dialogue that is a welcome contribution to the long-term sustainability of Steamboat Springs and the Yampa Valley.
Folks well-schooled in the dynamics of rural development know that the way people in a community relate to and interact with each other shapes how a community grows more than the physical infrastructure or the total set of leadership skills. People willingly contribute to the greater good if they feel welcome, respected and valued. Civil dialogue facilitates creative, outside-the-box solutions, and the community thrives. However, we also know that in smaller communities, many citizens suppress and hold back what they want to say because they fear repercussions.
Dialogue that leads to deeper understanding and generates more creative solutions can be more difficult in a smaller community because we cannot remain anonymous. We put ourselves out there for all the community to see. We interact with one another on a regular, informal and relatively personal basis across a wide variety of settings - at school events, on trails, at work, at the post office or in the grocery store. We develop relationships with the whole person so we might refrain from saying something controversial that questions the prevailing viewpoint in one role because it may jeopardize our relationship with a person or their relatives in another role. This especially is true of public discussions. As a result, in smaller rural communities, people withdraw from public controversy, debates go uncompleted, and decisions are delayed.
If a community, not just leaders, accepts controversy civilly, then local politics are depersonalized. Sometimes, we criticize the character of a community leader or a person on the other side of an issue. All too often, we discount the validity of what someone says because we harbor a grudge, and then we speak from an ideology, just listening to those whose ideology matches our own. When we let these unfortunate habits overtake us, we affirm our differences, not what we share. Eleanor Roosevelt said more than once, "Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people."
If we foster a climate for civil dialogue, people listen respectfully as others speak thoughtfully and openly. We will appreciate differences, explore different assumptions, seek information, find common ground and carve out pragmatic solutions. When the norm of civil dialogue prevails in print, online, and face-to-face, people will take risks. They will offer perspectives and listen more attentively. We will express our views on issues without fear that we will lose a job; we will not assassinate someone's character or worry about a withering social life. We will be less defensive and volunteer for leadership roles in the community. We will ask outside-the-box questions, searching together for solutions that serve the whole community well into the future. Simply stated, civil dialogue is a precondition for a healthy community and economic development, and for effective leadership.
Steve Aigner is the organizer for the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley.