Thursday, July 12, 2007

Division and Discourse

"Discussion is an exchange of knowledge; argument an exchange of emotion."
- Robert Quillen

Over the last few months, I, along with many others have been engaged in a public dialogue concerning the proposed industrial wind turbine development in Ellis County. As a concerned citizen and landowner in the proposed area, I have reviewed a plethora of information regarding the wind industry, wind turbines and the effect they seem to have on people and communities. For many reasons, I am decidedly against the current project and its current location. Though I am tempted to enumerate these reasons and the evidence behind them, my efforts here must be focused on matters infinitely more important.

Thomas Jefferson is said to have lived his life in accordance to his statement; ”I have never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as a cause for withdrawing from a friendship.” I have taken this Jeffersonian charge seriously in my own life and have attempted to appreciate and understand human diversity in culture, values and opinions.

As a result, I have been rewarded with a broad menagerie of friendships, colleagues and perspectives that I otherwise would not have given a second glance. In fact, many of my closest friends do not share my religious or political leanings, yet we are able to find and relish in our common ground.

To be honest, I do not always live up to this lofty goal. When I feel threatened or vulnerable, it is quite tempting to encamp in an ideology or emotion. It becomes easier to demonize the opposition and react in the spirit of a phrase popularized by a leading political figure of our time, “You’re either with us or against us”. This “us versus them” mentality creates a cavernous schism, separating us from people with whom we share goals, interests and opinions. Furthermore, it renders it almost impossible to understand or appreciate them.

The proposal to place an industrial wind development just outside of Hays has split our community deeply. Many people have developed and espoused impassioned arguments over the proposal. These passions have lead to irresponsible behavior among some and alienated others entirely.

This debate is perhaps one of the most important public decisions we will make as a community in our lifetime. It is imperative that we discuss the issues with one another to reach a reasonable conclusion. As we do however, we must resist the temptation to let our fears and personal interests dictate our tactics. If we honestly engage in rational dialogue, we will surely find that we are all closer together than we otherwise imagine.

Most all of us are concerned about the environment and our impact on it. We are almost all for renewable energy and conservation of our natural resources. We all desire to see our community economically vibrant and socially enriched. We may not agree on every issue, but we can agree to stand above the temptation to cut one another down, in the effort to advance our own position.

I understand there is much at stake. There are local individuals who stand to gain or lose financially. Some local individuals fear for the health of their families. Many community members want to be involved in trying to stem the tide of the rampant consumption of resources. There are also national and global players with a stake in the outcome of this debate that stand to gain or lose large sums of money and influence. These factors provide a strong allure to use whatever means necessary to win.

Such a Pyrrhic victory will come with tremendous cost to individuals and to the community at large. Wind developments in other communities have been adopted and denied without tearing apart the fabric of the community. This community can also make the decision to value each other more than our windy agendas.

To begin this effort in joining together as a community, I would like to invite CPV Wind Hays and the Ellis County Environmental Awareness Coalition to participate in a public conversation. Each group could choose three individuals that have represented them in their community education efforts to advocate for their position. A neutral representative in the community could moderate the discussion to assure an impartial forum. Such a forum could be televised to the community and emphasize the issues at hand with a unity of purpose.

Let’s not lose sight of our common ground. Let’s stand together and discuss our differences. Let’s make this about discourse, not division.

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