Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Start and Stop in a Single Sound

Words are powerful, typed or spoken. You can wound or win with a single phrase. Before the shots had been fired at Breed's Hill, the winter survived at Valley Forge and the surrender celebrated at Yorktown, there were pamphleteers across the then-Colonies, advocating and arguing for the protection of the rights of the colonists against the Crown creating an intellectual climate that led to a very hot summer in Philadelphia and some of the most powerful words ever assembled on one piece of paper, The Declaration of Independence.

In his way, Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense, was just as much a soldier as the "Father of his Country," George Washington or "Mad" Anthony Wayne wielding words as weapons in the service of ideas and ideals. It is after all, words that excite and invite each of us individually to dream and believe in values greater than ourselves and which incite us to actions to make those dreams real.

New England regards itself with no small amount of pride as a crucible of the American Revolution, contributing both warriors and wordsmiths in the Battle for American Independence. I mention this not (just) because we're nearing Memorial Day or to restart a discussion we all need to have about the importance of historic tourism as another aspect of the continuing economic revival here in Norwich, though both are certainly true enough.

I'm actually much more interested in having us become more honest in how we choose our words and in how candidly conduct our public conversations. In the not too distant past, we had open dislike on display whenever our City Council assembled and too many discussions on serious and important issues were colored by rancor and personal animus, rendering fair-minded and open discussion nearly impossible.

For one person to look good, someone else needed to look bad. Energy that might have been better used in building bridges to organizations and programs that could have enhanced community successes was, instead, expended in hurling invective and creating wounds that, to this day, are still healing.

I know a little about the pain that harsh words can inflict as I gave as good as I got in what I, and too many others, saw as a zero-sum game that was most certainly never played as a game but often waged as a war. I'm not apologizing and I'm not regretting; just strike another match, go start anew. Anything else is less than zero.

One of the more positive aspects of our current City Council, of whose seven members I voted for (no more than) four, has been their ability, in my view, to put aside personal prejudices and beliefs for a greater and more global fact-based decision model which they have adopted in the pursuit of enhancing both the quality of life across our city as well as the bottom line of the Grand List.

It’s not always easy and relies on us, too, to be honest in our interactions with them and one another, be it Council meetings, workshops or chance encounters. Words, ours and theirs, are too powerful to not use wisely and well. As Paine pointed out, "We have it in our power to begin the world again." All we need do is say the word and mean it.
-bill kenny

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