Friday, February 18, 2000
Letters to the Editor
Let me tell you, the Letters to the Editor column in the Carlisle Mosquito is one of the most widely read features in this newspaper! The Mosquito has a policy of printing all letters unless they are "libelous, obscene, or in extremely poor taste." The editor can also limit the number of letters written on the same subject, as well as limit the number of letters written annually by the same individual.
The Letters to the Editor column is where the community first finds out who is running for public office, and where citizens are often alerted to major community concerns and to problems that need to be addressed. A well thought-out letter to the editor can be of great interest to readers and can be a learning experience in itself.
However, when letters to the editor from the same writer on the same topic appear week after week, there are questions to be asked. If it is the actions of a town committee that are in question, wouldn't it be better to go before that committee and engage in a dialogue before attacking the committee, head-on in the newspaper? Also personal attacks on committee members in the paper are counter-productive and mean spirited.
An agenda of each committee meeting is posted and townspeople are encouraged to attend and speak out on issues of special concern. Attending a meeting where a face-to-face discussion can take place is apt to resolve problems much faster than letters published in a weekly newspaper.
When a letter writer is addressing a technical issue such as the Carlisle Cranberry Bog water question, it would be helpful if the writer would give his or her credentials or experience on the topic being discussed or at least the source of conflicting information so readers could evaluate all sides of the issue.
The Mosquito's Letters to the Editor column should not be used as a "chat room." When a resident takes issue with the actions of a town board, much more can be accomplished by first talking directly with the committee involved and only as a last resort writing a letter to the editor.
Building A Sense of Community
What do we mean when we talk about a sense of community? Do we mean that geographically we reside in Carlisle? Do we mean we are diverse but have values and priorities in common? Who are we and who do we want to be? How in communion are we?
I believe a sense of community requires that both the perception and the reality is a community that invites, welcomes and needs the participation of its citizenry.
From this perspective, is there a sense of community in Carlisle? Or perhaps a better question, what more can we do to improve our sense of community? Are we as open to different people and new ways and ideas as we think we are? Some have suggested that "new people" or a "commuting population not tied to the town" reduces the sense of community. What resources do we have in place to include these citizens of our town? Is it their responsibility to seek out involvement, or do we need a more active outreach to them? I believe we can do more to support their participation in our community.
How resources are allocated and how we provide support to each other tells a lot about our community. We should examine what we are supporting and what we aren't. Are we overlooking something important that would bring the community together? Is the distribution of town resources balanced or lopsided? What messages are we sending by the choices we are making? Are our actions in allocating resources aligned with the goal of supporting diversity and enhancing a sense of community?
When we don't protect the right of citizens to be heard, or worse, silence them, we are not fostering their participation in town affairs. When we schedule town activities without regard for days or times that exclude certain populations, we aren't supporting a sense of community. When our school has classroom/cafeteria space available that is needed for town programs and chooses not to make it available, we miss an opportunity to foster community. When we all aren't concerned about the town's water quality, we aren't acting as a community. When town and organizational dinners exclude certain populations for dietary reasons, we aren't being welcoming. When we ignore transportation issues, we exclude populations who cannot drive. When we don't provide affordable housing, we exclude limited income families. In fact, lack of transportation and affordable housing may not only exclude people from coming to town, but may force Carlisle residents to leave if their circumstances change. Is this community? Is this who we want to be?
I propose that we need to listen more respectfully, even when what is being said is hard for us to hear. We need to work hard to avoid polarizing a situation, and reread the Marshall Simonds interview (Mosquito, 2/11/00) as many times as it takes for his wisdom to sink in. We need as a people and as a town to avoid being myopic in our attitudes, goals, thinking and planning. We need to be more mindful of what our choices include and exclude. We need to share resources and make more efficient use of them.
Without being dedicated to promoting diversity, we cannot foster a sense of community. If we can create an active, diverse, participating community, we are all winners. If we cannot, we are all losers.
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito