Most people aren’t eager to embrace inevitable change
One of the joys of inflicting myself on Daily Sentinel readers every week is the resulting back and forth with many of you. I’ve been both gratified and disappointed by your responses but seldom surprised. Last week was no exception.
I’d written about how a weekend, off-road journey on Kokpelli Trail had put an exclamation point on some of the public-lands controversies we’re embroiled in, specifically mentioning the pending revision of the Resource Management Plan for the local office of the Bureau of Land Management. And I also mentioned the ongoing debate about whether the Colorado National Monument should be designated a national park.
The reaction from one reader, another longtime local, to that column was challenging and enlightening, a refreshing example of how we all used to be able to disagree without being disagreeable, as well as a reminder of usually unspoken underlying sentiments, at least among folks who’ve been here awhile.
That attitude is usually tagged as NIMBYism, the Not-In-My-Backyard syndrome rooted in the idea that if we could only turn back the clock, if we could just short-circuit change and remain in that place we remember looking back through our rose-colored glasses, everything would be better.
This particular reader, a fellow off-road enthusiast with a similar taste for retro vehicles, shares my memories of when Main Street was straight — when, as I once stated in a campaign brochure, there wasn’t a four-lane highway in all of Mesa County. He’s also occasionally frustrated by locked gates, by some regulations he sees as over-reaching and by marketing that exposes the secrets of our little piece of paradise and attracts visitors and new residents.
In my reply, I included one of my favorite quotes, one found years after my father introduced me both to the outdoors and to his favorite Western artist.
“In my book, a pioneer is a man who turned all the grass upside down, strung bob-wire over the dust that was left, poisoned the water and cut down the trees, killed the Indians who owned the land and called it progress,” Charles M. Russell told the Great Falls, Mont., Booster Club back in 1923. “If I had my way, the land would be the way God made it and none of you sons-of-bitches would be here at all.”
Many of us can relate to Russell’s observation, though we might state it more politely.
Change is inevitable but not inevitably bad. How we change is up to us, individually and as a community. The way we go about that can be pretty messy at times, personally and publicly. How messy is again up to us.
“Everyone lives downstream from someone else,” former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt wrote in his book, “Cities in the Wilderness,” a reminder that even the changes we might appreciate have implications beyond our own experiences.
“The best we can do, at any point in time,” I responded to the gentleman’s email last week, “is to acknowledge change and try to guide it in a way that makes sense not only for us for also for those who come after.”
That’s the hardest part in the public-policy arena, whether the consideration is closing some roads or changing a name. Gauging the broad implications, not just the apparent immediate impacts, and taking a long- term view that might show the easy answer today may be the wrong solution over time.
Couple that with the hard-to-avoid feeling that our ability to control change is diminishing, and it’s easy to see why some would rather leave things as they are (or they way we imagine they must have been), why changing the name of the local college or the airport for marketing purposes is fraught with controversy and why tradition bumps up against progress time and time again.
“Guess that’s why I cling to the past with such reverence,” my email correspondent wrote. “Not that I fear the future, but instead just what kind of future.”
We’re all in that same boat to some degree. Fearful that losing something we treasure is part and parcel of stepping into the future.