When reverence for our past blinds us to our future….

I love Vermont. I’ve lived here seventy years, and like my father, I’ve turned down opportunities to move away and earn more money. But I don’t trust the Vermont myth of ‘exceptionalism.’

We’re a microcosm of the world around us. Our communities and our natural, working, and built environments make us a wonderful place to live, but I worry that our tendency toward self-adulation calcifies belief systems that often impede our progress. Change happens whether we like it or not and it’s critical to understand and accommodate it without compromising our values. To ignore change puts our future at risk.

I love a well-framed barn, in fact, my first home was one. I love and use hand-made tools. But I try not to let my reverence for the past obscure my vision of the future.

Personally, I prefer small communities and local democracy, but driving through rural Vermont and seeing the hollowed-out towns and villages I knew as thriving centers of social and economic vitality when I was young challenges the ideal of local control. Small is beautiful, except when its windows are boarded up with plywood.

E-commerce, urbanization, and the industrialization of our food supply have exported wealth, gutting too many of our communities. Many of the old “tools” in our economic development toolbox are rusty relics.

So, to understand and confront change, we must re-imagine our communities and the institutions and commerce that feed them. When employment in the non-profit government, healthcare, and educational sectors outstrips employment in local businesses, we must rethink unregulated, free-market capitalism as a pathway to personal and community financial independence. Global economic, environmental, transportation, and communications systems ignore state lines. The boundaries on our maps now mean little beyond the law, politics, and taxation.

Finally, we may all be good people, but we each have the potential to do bad things. That’s the human condition. And the good-ol’-boy network that prefers back-room governance, winks, nods, and deals is a destructive anachronism. We must adhere to transparent and representative governance, and evolve and enforce ethical guidelines that oversee our decisions and policy-making.

We can love and preserve those aspects of our past that retain their beauty and utility, but not to re-examine frankly and honestly what has worked and what may now be failing puts us at risk. The Times They Are a Changin’ and so must we.

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