It’s that slow time of year. After the holiday rush, January and February are a drag. It may be a great time to stay inside and read, but I think most people are catching up on the “to-be-reads” or wallowing in all the gift books they received. Skies are gray; cold and wind are not the ideal conditions for shoppers to stroll our lovely little town looking at the cute boutiques.
Despite the overall dullness, there has been a lot of excitement in this little town of mine. Not the kind that brings tourists – the kind that pits otherwise nice, sane residents and business owners against one another. It’s not even a clear “residential versus business” battle; it’s a clash of outrageous personalities, fed by the opportunity to vent ad infinitum on social media, and those who line up on each side based on half-truths and untruths meant to sway – who? Sounds a lot like our national political situation, doesn’t it?
The details of the controversy are too convoluted to be explained in a blog post, and would only be read by those of you who have run out of Ambien. Whichever side is right or wrong, life will go on. What concerns me is that the resolution of the issues in dispute will have less impact than the way the debate was waged. Some parties took to Facebook, in local “groups” formed to convey information (e.g., “When is the power coming back on?” (Not even the electric company knows); “Why is the highway closed?” (Another trucker went through a New Jersey circle at high speed, load shifted); “Who knows a good dermatologist?” (Not me)) and used these groups as forums to personally attack others who disagreed with them. These were not anonymous trolls trying to be snarky or hurtful because they had nothing better to do with their time. These were clearly identified residents, business owners, and town officials. The controversy will subside, but I am not sure the damage can be undone.
In all fairness, most of those who were attacked refrained from responding in kind, and wrote only about their views on the matter at hand. Those of us who stayed out of the fray but read avidly formed opinions about the attackers that were more telling than any of the points they were trying to make about their targets, and gained new respect for those we were being told were idiots. I find it hard to believe that those graceful “idiots” who seemed to slough off the insults weren’t deeply hurt. The targets may not respond in kind or seek revenge, but I don’t see how they will ever view their tormentors as people they can trust or work with in the future.
What’s happening at the national level is troubling to me, but I am not impacted in my daily doings by the nastiness. I just turn off the news and pray that the sane majority turns out to vote in November. The local controversy, though, has gotten me thinking about what really is happening in our world. We seem to have all sorts of programs in the schools to teach the young that bullying is wrong. If a student in our high school had posted about a fellow student in the vitriolic tone that some adults in this community used, he or she would be subject to all sorts of discipline. Are we teaching them that it’s OK to do this when you’re an adult? Children learn from the way we behave, not from lectures on good behavior. Yet the abusive behavior is rampant in the media (even without the politicians). Reality shows seem to glorify “getting over” on someone, or at least out-shouting them. Ditto the talking heads on the news networks supposedly presenting opposing views, but actually trying be the loudest and most noticed. As the war for ratings continues, the ante is upped daily. The only good part is that the talking without listening, and at the same time, leads to such cacophony that nothing is heard by the viewer.
It does seem that the atmosphere of attack that we live in has actually convinced some otherwise intelligent people that the way to achieve one’s goals is to assault, at least verbally, anyone in the way, even if that “anyone” happens to have the authority to stop you in your tracks. I sat at a town council meeting Monday evening where the issue at hand was whether to disband the business development group that has been doing good work, but has refused to be accountable to the town council which is funding it with tax dollars. Many parties spoke for each side, and the council members listened, even extending the time for public comment until everyone was heard. I was appalled when one of the trustees of the business development group, who had been told in an earlier gathering of supporters of his own position that he should not speak because his Facebook posts had made him toxic, got up. As he attempted to plead his case to those who would decide, he made a nasty personal comment to one of the council members, whom he had attacked relentlessly online, and who had not responded to him, and followed it up with a “gotcha” grin. He seemed surprised when the vote went against him. Does anyone really believe that if your snark is clever enough, you’ll be rewarded?
Several commenters at this meeting suggested mediation as an alternative to disbanding a group which has done some fine work. Sadly, things had reached a state similar to many couples on the brink of divorce; there is so much anger that any counseling or mediation is impossible. This anger was fueled by the examples we see daily of winning by bullying and the ease with which this can be accomplished on social media. Instead of telling my friends in conversation what a jerk I think my neighbor is, I can now tell the entire community. I win! I show how clever I am by humiliating someone I have to live near and work with. And then wonder why nothing gets done.
On a brighter note, there was another major issue decided at Monday evening’s town council meeting, and this one with little controversy. An aging historic hotel in the center of town has been vacant for eight years, and has gone through two unsuccessful attempts to redevelop it. Despite the display of childish behavior by some of our citizens over the last few months, a developer presented beautiful plans which seem to have a chance of succeeding. He also has the resources to accomplish it. The lovely old building will be leveled, but it has been so neglected it’s about to fall down. Sentiment over the years has been to preserve it, but even those of us who love old landmarks have faced the reality that it cannot be saved and has become an eyesore dragging down the main street. Sentiment at the meeting was to mourn our loss but move on. There was actually a lot of mature adult behavior in this case. I guess there is hope! (If you want to see where all the famous reporters stayed during the Lindbergh trial, visit Flemington soon. Or you can see where the photographers did their work by visiting my shop.)