I’ve been reading the interim report of the Council on the Future of Vermont’s look at what Vermonters hold sacred as well as what they fear about recent trends in our state. It is a collaborative work-in-progress between the Vermont Council on Rural Development and UVM’s Center for Rural Studies.
Their initial survey of what values Vermonter’s hold most dear includes: preservation of the working landscape, personal independence, privacy, mutual trust, and creative, small- scale, and safe communities. In another set of questions labeled “challenges,” Vermonter’s expressed their deep concerns about the rising costs of utilities, fuel, transportation, food and healthcare that erode the viability of Vermont’s working landscape and the affordability of housing, schools and transportation infrastructure. Vermont’s tax rate burden also sat squarely in the middle of these “challenge statements.”
The real challenge underlying all this is to achieve a balance between our individual rights and freedoms and the necessary compromises that foster and sustain the strong communities we revere. We cannot have it both ways just as we cannot have rights without obligations.
For example, we cannot believe in wind power while opposing projects that occur within our view. We cannot revere the working landscape and revile the smell of manure. We cannot complain about the lack of job opportunities here and make siting new businesses in our communities a permitting nightmare. We cannot complain about the lack of open land while posting our mini-estates against trespassers. We cannot reduce waste and shut down large scale composters. Finally, we cannot rail against taxes and crumbling bridges.
What can we do? We can stop carping and roll up our sleeves. We can insist on more efficient and effective government. We can remember that our democracy is participatory. We can meet candidates and assess their records. We can fact-check political nonsense. We can vote in all elections. We can serve on local governance committees like select, school and zoning boards. We can ask ourselves what the correct balance is between self, family and community.
We will define ourselves for posterity not only by what we do, but by how we live with one another. We will be judged by our industry and commerce, how we respect and define our heritage and landscape, and by how we care for our children, our elders and those in need.
Good leaders ask these fundamental questions and help us arrive at answers. They also manage government in such a way that it is a service to its citizens, not merely a tax, transactional and administrative burden.
Just as glasses are rarely half-full or half-empty, achieving balance between the individual and the community in which he or she lives is never black or white. What will we give up to live in harmony and prosperity?
The important dialogue begun by The Council on the Future of Vermont is at the heart of what we will become. Are we part of a participatory democracy or merely a vast audience booing in the stands? (500 wds)