Sunday Herald/Times Argus
July 1, 2001

Rutland needs a civil discourse, not a war
By Douglas P. Babbitt

Throughout its 63-year history, Rutland Economic Development Corporation has been an active force in supporting the attraction, creation and retention of employment opportunities within the region. For much of that history, REDC has enjoyed the near unanimous support of the community-at-large in the pursuit of its mission: to improve the economic success of Rutland County.

In recent years, however, we have sensed waning enthusiasm for projects with the potential, in our view, to strengthen the regional economy and secure a better future for local residents. Of particular concern, some opponents of change seem willing to transform our community into a "war zone."

Newly released government data, and other recent developments within the region, suggest that changing attitudes come with a cost. Official statistics indicate that both employment and population within the Rutland region have been at a virtual standstill for several years, while government hand-outs (officially know as transfer payments) represent a rising proportion of residents' personal income. It is evident, at least anecdotally, that a relative lack of job opportunities is causing an outward migration of intelligent and able young adults. Moreover, an increasing percentage of those who remain seem to be falling prey to a rising tide of drug abuse and other counterproductive activities.

REDC, through its lending, real estate development, and consulting efforts, does its best to support the local economy. Clearly, however, this is not enough.

After much consideration, REDC has concluded that Rutland County can only succeed if the community is of one mind as to the future of the region. To that end, we are attempting to launch, with this essay, a community-wide dialogue on the future of the Rutland region and the meaning of "quality of life."

In order to keep first things first, I present below a proposed set of ground rules for the discussion. It is our hope, if not our expectation, that this discussion will get us beyond the black and white of our many differences and into the gray areas that constitute a constellation of commonly held values.

Arguably, the lifeblood of a community is its ability to support open, honest, and productive discussion of important issues. A healthy community addresses its challenges through a process that achieves consensus through the free interchange of information and ideas. Protecting, supporting and maintaining this process is a civic responsibility that we all share.

The First Amendment protects free speech and imposes very few limitations. It protects facts and distortions, reasoned arguments and inflamed rhetoric, compliments and insults. It does snot pass judgement on the content, quality or consequences of our speech. That responsibility falls to each of us as citizens.

A healthy civil discourse is characterized by:
A moderate and respectful tone, whether in speech or in print.
Objective and accurate statements of fact. Well-reasoned and well-supported arguments.
Transparent motives.

Civil discourse is damaged by:
Intimidating language.
Mischaracterization or misrepresentation of facts.
Arguments based on false premises or unsupported assertions.
Arguments appealing to emotion over reason.
Veiled motives.
Questioning of others motives or other personal attacks.

Maintaining the quality of our civil discourse will improve the quality of our lives. Each of us must take responsibility for our own contribution to the discourse. We must also take care not to reward those who would damage the health of our discourse and jeopardized our quality of life.

Surely, we cannot allow this to become a war. At times like these it is worth pondering the motto of our state - Freedom and Unity. Or, as one great patriot put it, "we must all hang together, or surely we shall all hang separately."

Douglas P. Babbitt is president of the Rutland Economic Development Corporation.