Monday, November 30, 2020

Echo chambers and community

Maybe it’s the haze from the Arizona and Durango wildfires that are smogging up the valley. Or perhaps it was the incredibly vibrant rainbow that surrounded town last Saturday evening and blew people’s minds. Perhaps it is the strange look and feel of the one-way Elk Avenue reconfiguration that came about as a coronavirus mitigation or the sweet thought of a drive-in movie theater at the I Bar. It could be the idea of being told to wear a mask between now and well into next ski season whenever you go into a local business. Whatever it is, there is a sharp edge percolating out there.

It’s like everyone thinks they are in a private Facebook group where only friends can see your opinions and everyone agrees with your rants so you can comfortably call outliers names and make fun of those who disagree with you. But that’s not how real community works, so the edge seems to be tearing into the societal fabric of late. Real community deals with different personalities, different ideas, different opinions, and then hashes them out and moves ahead in some semblance of togetherness. Sometimes you get what you want and other times the guy on the other side does. Sometimes there is a compromise where no one gets exactly what they want. Healthy tension can be productive.

I’ve always touted this valley as a place where people can be bare-knuckled rough about their positions and argue vehemently about the direction of the place but in the end we can still share a beer together—because in a small town we sort of have to. We will inevitably run into the person on the other side of an issue and so we might as well get a beer together instead of just spitting vitriol at one another. Spitting vitriol from behind a keyboard is much too easy. And maybe this place is growing enough where there is plenty of comfort in staying inside individual echo chambers where everyone believes the same things. That is not really a good thing.

As I was reminded this week after the June 12 editorial, some from both the left and the right are comfortable in their like-minded bubbles and are dumbfounded when someone doesn’t agree 100 percent with their position. I appreciate reasoned debate and counter arguments and I received some of that this week, along with being tagged a simple dumbass blowhard. Fair. For me, that is part of the job to make people try to think about other perspectives. BTW, I stand by the opinion that if wearing a facemask in crowded places might keep local businesses open then it is a simple and good thing to do. And while there is no doubt some law enforcement agencies need critical changes to serve and protect all of our citizens including people of color, skewed and simplistic slogans like “Defund the Police” or “Dismantle the Police Departments” will no doubt get hijacked and politicized to scare suburbanites in key states to hold their nose and vote for Donald. It’s not the end goal that is crazy, it is the poor messaging.

While I expect pushback that is sometimes mean, when it is directed to community members who are just trying to have a conversation, it chips away at the basic foundation of community. When people who are simply working a job get abuse because they point out that the county is requiring face masks and the customer cusses them out, it chips away at the foundation of community. When someone flips off a neighbor who voices an opinion that doesn’t line up with the liberal or the conservative talking point they are used to hearing in the echo chamber, it chips away at the foundation of community.

In a solid community there is respect, argument and compromise. An argument to be debated is much more difficult to have than simply taking a position that never changes because the other side is “lame.” I get that Crested Butte is seeing some rapid change and the place that used to be pretty egalitarian where the lift op or house cleaner could regularly be seen hiking with or sharing a cocktail with the bank president or rich second homeowner is fading. Let us hope it doesn’t disappear. That is part of our foundation.

We are fortunate to be part of this place whether as a permanent resident, a tourist or a second homeowner. Each of these groups is a needed leg of the stool that holds up the uniqueness of the valley. Crested Butte has the scale of a comfortable small town in the mountains. It is set in the middle of literally millions of acres of nature. It provides opportunity for sophisticated art and food and conversations. The non-profits provide good energy and offbeat funkiness. The trails are spectacular, the people—not always normal. It’s never been “normal” up here and that is part of the charm. So is the robust debate.

It seems that most everyone who ends up here, whether as a resident, a tourist or a second homeowner, were drawn here for similar reasons: They love what the mountains offer; they appreciate the sometimes raw town full of interesting people; they are not afraid to veer from the mainstream and dive into the irreverent (see Noodle ad on page 22). There is no doubt the stress of all that is happening in the world is impacting people but this place is better when all of us despite differences mingle together instead of bunkering down in echo chambers of division.

We have always prided ourselves on our creativity, edge and resilience in this valley. And we should still. But before the pride we should reaffirm the sense of broad community that includes showing respect instead of middle school meanness. It includes understanding that the neighbor you slap on social media will be in line with you at the post office. It includes making a reasoned argument rather than simply saying a government official is useless and should be ignored. Remaining a strong community takes the hard work of strengthening the foundation through real communication and not chipping away at it from the comfort of an echo chamber.

—Mark Reaman

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