• In search of a friend
    August 12,2013
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    We all have good friends. We are honest with our friends — if they have faults, we point them out, but in a constructive way. We support them when they are down, and we step in and step up when they need us. We do not, however, take every chance to point out that our friend is past his or her prime, that our friend is no longer worthy of our time or energy. When a friend is in a jam, we do what we can to get them out.

    We need to start thinking of Rutland as a friend — someone who is worthy of our time and energy, and who we will not bad-mouth to our other friends or to outsiders.

    The truth is, the work of countless local people over the last decade is beginning to enter the payoff stage. From the farmers market to downtown revitalization, the Paramount Theatre’s success and the new children’s museum, the signs of Rutland’s future are all around us.

    What you think of that probably depends on whether you’re a “glass half full” or a “glass half empty” kind of person. Some people will choose not to see it. These are the same wise old saws who opine that Rutland’s best days are behind her, that this city is on the down and out, that we should just shut the place down and board up the windows for good.

    These critics are right about many things. They are correct that our city has major problems with drugs, and crime. They are right that there was a different — and maybe stronger — fabric holding the city together in days past. But the fabric we are building today has the potential to be just as strong and more lasting. And our city, and county, are worthy of that effort.

    Many of the current community-building projects under way — from neighborhood barbecues to the beautification efforts — are attempts to rebuild or rework the framework that was once provided by the trinity of locally-owned businesses, steady jobs and the church. Local business owners once formed the backbone of civic leadership, and while we are blessed locally with community-minded leaders in several companies with headquarters out of state, there are now far fewer businesses here whose owners have a vested interest in Rutland. Steady jobs with good benefits also provided good wages that were spent locally. Those jobs are not gone, just fewer in number, and efforts to grow new opportunities are still in the early germination stage.

    The churches brought people from all walks of life into a common space at least once a week, and while they remain a key part of our lives, church participation has been falling steadily. There is still a strong community connected by local churches, but it is more fragmented and not as encompassing. Whatever the cause, these changes have altered the way we are all connected.

    That’s the reality. There’s truth in the conversation about how Rutland used to be hopping on Saturday nights, with Woolworth’s open and families congregating on the streets. There’s truth in the claim that the declining role of religion in our lives has eroded the fabric that holds us together.

    But there is also denial — denial that the community gatherings and community connections we are building today are just as valid and worthy of our respect. The Friday night summer series downtown actually also brings thousands of people to our streets, as does the farmers market. And Rutland’s farmers market is just one of more than a dozen in our county alone. These communal points are places where people of all walks of life rub elbows and meet up in a friendly way. Pig roasts, the many community events at the Paramount Theatre, school plays and youth sports are all events that bring us together regularly. These are not spiritual, and they are not going to instill in us one set of uniform values. Maybe too much innocence has been lost in the last 40 years.

    So maybe the people who would point to the negatives and the change of the last 30 years are right.

    But you can be right and still be unhelpful, or downright obstructionist. Looking back and creating a beautiful past is always easier than looking forward and doing the work to create a beautiful future. The uncertainty can be bitter, and nagging — will all our efforts, and all the time spent, bring an end to these drug problems that plague us? The answer to that — we can’t know for sure — is far less satisfying than the wistful remembrance of a far-distant past.

    We live in the present, and the reality that we have now, not in the past that we wish for. Obstruction in this instance comes in the form of inaction. It comes in the form of lethargy, and self-absorbtion. It also comes in the form of the language we use to describe our home.

    Marketing research shows that it can take up to 12 good experiences with a product or company to equal one bad experience. The same is true with the “brand” of Rutland. The way we talk about our city and our county impacts the way that we, and the rest of the state, perceive our home. Instead of perpetuating the negatives, we should think of our home as if it is our best friend.

    It’s time to be a booster for our friend, and it doesn’t matter what you do — a barbecue, a simple “hello” to a stranger, a plate at a pig roast or a visit to the farmers market.
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