Vermont and America have always been inspired and governed by a
political spectrum spanning conservative and liberal values. Party names
have changed – Whigs, Bull Moose, Tea Party – and who’d recognize
Lincoln’s Republican Party today? Power shifts and labels change but
the dynamic tension between conservative and liberal philosophies
persists and that continuum is good for the nation. Nations and
communities are all in a perpetual process of becoming and political
work is never done – either at the leadership level or at the
There’s another civic spectrum, however,
bearing no correlation to the conservative – liberal one. It, too, must
be balanced for the nation to function. It’s defined at one end by "me
and mine" and at the other end by "us and ours."
I worry that we
are becoming a nation of narcissists, arrogant in our belief that our
personal well-being or the well-being of our family outweighs the
benefits of community that were so intrinsic to the understanding of the
founding fathers. All of the personal freedoms they enumerated are
tempered with an understanding that, absent the strength of community
and nation, the individual freedoms amount to little more than anarchy.
attended too many public meetings recently where the comments and
questions raised rarely rise above the speaker’s personal interests …my
taxes, my property, my guns, my view… my, my, my. It all begins to
sound like the terrible twos, before toddlers pass beyond the
narcissistic state of being the center of the universe, as they have
been since birth, and begin to understand for the first time that they
are but one in a family.
In the political arena, I believe the
great mass of voting independents who commit to understanding issues and
judging the character and wisdom of our would-be leaders, whether
liberal or conservative, make up the great strength of our country.
Those on either extreme seem more like ice-bound dinosaurs, loud but
In the civic arena, I have come to appreciate those who
understand the balance between the rights and concerns of individuals
and the obligations and value of community. They aren’t always the same.
The catchphrase is "not in my backyard," which begs the question,
"then, in whose?"
Having grown up in Vermont, my metaphor for
this growing imbalance is posted land and "no trespassing" signs. When I
was young, in the middle of the last century, no one posted their land
unless they were from away or doing something illegal on it. The
respectful use of one another’s property was understood to be a valuable
Today where I live in Hinesburg, I believe
our property is one of the few remaining tracts of open land on which
people are welcome to visit, recreate and hunt.
As the political
pendulum swings from left to right and back again, it’s more important
than ever that we also find the right balance between our own interests
and those of a strong community.