• Please change the story, the old one’s getting old
    March 19,2014
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    By Joanna Tebbs Young

    Cognitive dissonance. When a personal belief is in direct contradiction to the evidence.

    Recently, WCAX featured a story titled, “Rutland is hot spot for dining” in which Griffin’s, Roots and Kelvan’s were mentioned as examples of area restaurants where “the food is something to talk about.”

    The story continues: “Larry Nowakowski is head chef at Griffin’s Publick House on Center Street. After attending culinary school in San Diego and working as a chef all over the U.S. and in Paris, he was attracted to Rutland for its quality of life.”

    Let me repeat that: He came to Rutland — from Paris — for the quality of life.

    Hmmm, that kind of goes against the grain of the accepted narrative in this state; the narrative that was alive and obnoxious in the comments under the story on WCAX’s Facebook page. Here is a sampling:

    “Heroin must make you hungry.”

    “Rutland is a drug destination. And a get-stabbed-randomly destination.”

    “Just use your etb (SIC) card.”

    I am very happy to say that quite a few Rutlanders jumped into the conversation (if you can even call it that) and plugged our restaurants, the town in general and called out those who don’t even live here but who were quick to judge.

    But despite the many positive comments about Rutland, they were dismissed ­— even laughed at — and the negatives continued to roll in.

    This is cognitive dissonance. There is plenty of evidence that this is a wonderful place to live — if you choose to recognize it.

    I’m guessing many of these commenters didn’t even watch the video or read the accompanying story, where the evidence was spelled out, but were instead responding solely to the story’s title.

    But Rutland has a reputation that is hard to shrug off.

    When there’s a crime in Burlington, the masses don’t jump all over the city deriding it and its residents.

    But Rutland: A carjacking and it’s, “Of course! It’s Rutland!” (And I have to note that the fact that this was such a big deal is a testament to the rarity of it. If it happened every day as it does in many places, it wouldn’t even make the news.)

    A series of robberies and, according to comments on social media, every single one of us who live here is a strung-out lowlife. Pardon me, but I take offense at that. And I take offense on behalf of every person who lives and/or works here who is not only choosing to see the positive but who is working to make things even better.

    To the positive feedback on the WCAX story, one commenter wrote, “i love delusional ppl (SIC) that think nothing bad is happening around them. ur (SIC) living in a bubble.”

    No, sir, we are not. Celebrating the fact that we have some fabulous restaurants and that we love living here does not mean we are not seeing the whole picture. In fact, we are doing quite the opposite.

    As Gov. Shumlin pointed out in a recent speech that has been well-reported by national media, the entire state — not just Rutland — has a horrendous heroin problem. We are facing our problems. We’re being honest instead of sticking our heads in the sand. We are talking about our problems and working to solve them. While we may be further tarnishing our reputation by, for example, organizing a block party whose purpose was to send a message to the drug dealers, highlighting the fact that we have a neighborhood that desperately needs help, in the long run, I believe we will be better off.

    The danger of absolutist, “nothing is good because one thing is bad,” black-white thinking is that it does not allow for change or growth.

    One ex-Rutlander, for example, wrote about her disbelief that Rutland didn’t even have a seafood and steak restaurant. She summed up that, “Rutland will never change.”

    Ah, but we have. And continue to. I do have to wonder, in the light of these Facebook comments, what visitors to Rutland actually see. Do they even come downtown? Have they seen the new stores and restaurants that are opening all the time?

    Or do they just go to Walmart? Do they stick to Route 7 and see only the national restaurant chains and box stores? Yes, this is Rutland, too, but it is not all of it ­— and certainly not the true beating heart of it.

    I understand that people just love to use Facebook as a place to be as negative and hateful as possible — and as that saying goes, “it says more about them than you” — so I try to take the comments with a grain of salt. But I do think they are indicative of a narrative that is nothing more than a decades-long habit.

    Look for negatives and, of course, you’ll find them. Look for positives, you find those too. And they can live side by side. No absolutist thinking. No cognitive dissonance necessary.

    So I send this message out to those who think bashing Rutland is fun: When you hurl insults at our town and dismiss all the good that we are working toward, you are insulting the individuals who choose to live here, who love living here and who are choosing to help heal the bad while focusing on the good. Look at the evidence. Challenge your beliefs. There is a new story that you need to hear.

    One Facebook commenter said it perfectly: “Rutland is full of hardworking folks who are proud to be a part of the positive change that has happened over the years. Rutland is a community that deserves to be recognized for all the good it has to offer.”

    Joanna Tebbs Young is a writer and writing and creativity facilitator living in Rutland.
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