LETTER: Is Civility in Charlestown a Lost Virtue?

This letter to the editor is reprinted here with permission of the author
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The British Statesman and Philosopher, Edmund Burke, once said, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” Throughout the course of history great civilizations have seen their demise in part due to their loss of civic virtue in which they have dismissed virtuous habits that contributed to the success of their society. In recent months factions within our town seem to have fallen victim to this harsh reality. Regard for others’ points of view have been replaced by caustic, disrespectful personal diatribes and caricatures, which insult and serve only to inflame, and not inform debate. In short, civic virtue has been swept aside and has given rise to social media attacks that discourage integrity, provide a shield of controlled anonymity amid innuendo, callous, irresponsible remarks and misinformation.

Admittedly, the events of the day in our town, whether they are wind turbines, fiscal management, land use and/or acquisitions, personnel and political ideology, have been the catalyst for strong intelligent and visceral reactions among many residents. And that is what democratic societies should allow and honor. However and sadly so, instead of promoting a climate where we can express our differences in an atmosphere that invites lively discourse, shared responsibility and more effective, collaborative decision-making, we find ourselves embroiled in defending, not our positions, but rather our personal character. Voices of reason have been drowned out by the screech doctrine replete with baseless attacks and anonymous internet assaults. One can only surmise what motivates and justifies this insidious behavior within the minds and hearts of its authors.

There is no question that our civic responsibility is to express our opinions. It is essential to advancing social justice and the overall quality of life in our town. The means to this desirable end is weakened when rude behavior is interspersed in our politics. Anger and disagreement are a distinct function of the human experience. They can be placed within the context of a simple axiom, “Be hard on issues and soft on people!” Our actions should take place in an open forum in which we are willing to accept personal responsibility for what we say and believe in respectful tones.

Charlestown is a wonderful place to live! Many of its residents have chosen to remain in their place of birth or have moved here because of its breathtaking beauty, a thoughtful focus on keeping this unsullied gem environmentally safe from unchecked growth and commercial development at the hands of unscrupulous profiteers. Its tranquility, family-centered environment and favorable tax rate add to the allure of this special town. Our diversity in terms of backgrounds and life experiences adds energy, intelligence and creativity to the governance of our town. In the best case scenario we can harness this talent by working cooperatively and interdependently to add luster to our community that will benefit all of us. At its worst, these same talents can be the groundswell for divisive, self-serving agendas and acrimonious relationships, which drain the collective spirit and give rise to apathy and a loss of civic virtue. If this were to happen, we will fall victim to our unwillingness to learn from history and tumble into an abyss of anger, suspicion and intolerance.

I have an abiding belief that Charlestown residents have the moral fiber and sensibility to stop the dysfunction that abounds of late. It will take courage, active involvement in the socio-political life of our town and the common sense to refocus our efforts on what we all want for each other and our legacy. The choice and the personal power to do so are ours to make.

Ronald J. Areglado
The writer lives in Charlestown