City consultant points out the obvious we sometimes fail to see
Sitting in a back room at the Rutland Police Department and listening to the city’s housing and revitalization consultant talk about Rutland’s northwest neighborhood Tuesday evening, I was reminded of the parable about the men and the elephant.
In one version of the story, the men are in a darkened room, and each man touches the animal in a different place, and comes to a different conclusion about what it is.
One man feels the tail and concludes that an elephant is like a rope. Another feels the tusk and believes the elephant is like a pipe. A third man feels the massive animal’s side and concludes that it is a like a wall. Other men who touch other parts of the animal come to different conclusions.
There are numerous versions of the tale, which has been around for centuries. In differing variations of the story, the men eventually compare notes, or someone adds a new perspective, that helps them understand the whole of the elephant rather than just the part they encountered. In other versions, the men come to blows over their convictions about the elephant.
The story has been used to highlight the need for communication and different perspectives, the fact that our own experiences can be limited by how we define the truth, or even a failure to recognize the entire truth. The story also highlights that seemingly conflicting facts can be true.
As with some of the national media coverage of Rutland that focused only on the city’s drug issues, when talk turns to the northwest corner of Rutland, it often turns to the problems: poverty, absentee landlords and crime. We rarely talk about the strength of character of longtime residents, the beauty of East Creek as it winds through the area, or the proximity to Pine Hill Park, for example.
But folks attending Tuesday night’s meeting, led by consultant Eric Hangen, brought a different perspective.
Two gentlemen, living in the heart of the northwest neighborhood, talked about their love for their street and how much things have improved over the past 18 months. A young professional, Elsie Gilmore, talked about mapping the assets of the neighborhood, which she is working on as part of an effort led by NeighborWorks of Western Vermont.
Hangen spoke about the neighborhood’s proximity to Rutland’s burgeoning and lively downtown, beautiful historic architecture, friendly neighbors and low real estate costs for the value.
As he said, and the Herald quoted the next day: “Most of the neighborhoods I work in, they aspire to be like your neighborhood one day.”
It’s all about perspective.
Yes, the northwest has some problems, and yes, Rutland does as well. But if that’s all we focus on as individuals, we paint an incomplete picture of all Rutland, and the northwest neighborhood, has to offer.
If we only focus on the trunk of the animal — say, crime — or the tail — say, poverty — we’ll miss the elephant in the room: Rutland is a gutsy, creative little community, surrounded by natural beauty and riding a growing wave of investment in downtown, energy and yes, even manufacturing.
What we make of Rutland, and how we choose to describe it to ourselves and to outsiders, is limited only by our ability to see the entire picture.
Steve Costello is a Green Mountain Power vice president, a resident of Rutland Town, and a member of Project VISION.