Ever since we’ve had language — about 50,000 years — I’m certain groups of humans have had these community conversations.
I’m also sure that key puzzling elements of these conversations have cropped up, over and over, among the sliver-haired sages engaging in these discussions. For millennia.
Sure enough, this came up last week during a Vail Symposium “Community Conversation” featuring Vail’s second town manager, Terry Minger, who helped found the Symposium way back when; current Town Manager Stan Zemler, who has guided Vail for the past decade through the much vaunted (and sometimes groused about) renaissance of the town; and Rob Levine, general manager of the Antlers who has been with the lodge since 1978 and a leader with the Symposium for about as long.
All three are wise and interesting people, and I love listening to them. I always learn something new, and gain fresh insight.
My insight this night was more, um, classic — that is to say, enduring, as in through the ages. Between 50 and 60 people came for the discussion, and a fair number participated in the discussion about where we are now and what the future looks like.
A poll taken at the beginning demonstrated the obvious. The attendees skewed heavily to 50 and older. I think two, maybe three were in their 30s.
Now, good and important things were brought up, and smart, caring folks in the audience weighed in with great participation. I look at these sessions as taking stock of our blessings and the challenges ahead.
These discussion tend to have an undercurrent of fear, too. Times are so good for Vail, everything considered, that the town has built up rather eye-popping reserves approaching $50 million in a recession. And still we’re worried that we’re killing the golden goose. Really? Look at all the hatchlings. For all the struggle, what community in all of America has been so blessed this past handful of years?
I got to thinking after overhearing a guy a row up from mine say to a companion, “You know we were saying exactly the same things in the ’80s.” Now that he mentioned it, these discussions have basically been the same in the going-on 14 years I’ve been lucky enough to live here.
Dear God, don’t get me thinking, because that just makes me snarky.
Inevitably we got to the question that has plagued civic-oriented citizens since the dawn of time: Where are our next leaders? Look around, it’s just us old folks filling positions and gathering for these conversations. This one is raised with a background of angst, as in what’s gone wrong for the bench to look so empty?
It’s a little different for Vail, a town only 50 years old now. But everywhere else, pretty much the elders always lead and gather for these conversations. The makeup of last week’s “Community Conversation” almost everywhere would be the same in the 1940s as now and as in the 1740s, and no doubt around the first campfires in South Africa.
The answer, of course, is that the next crop is right here, living their lives. Breathe. It’s OK. They will step up in turn — or rather, just enough of them will step up in turn. That’s just the way of things.
And then my favorite sentiment that invariably comes up: How do we bring the fun back? This used to be such a great place. Have we lost our spirit, soul, specialness, etc.? It’s just not the same anymore.
Well, of course not, you old goat. You were young then. I guarantee you the kids here today — in Vail, in Santa Barbara where I had most of my “back in the day,” wherever — they are having at least as much fun as we ever did, and this place will be at least as special in their calcified memory banks when it’s their turn to moan at a community conversation like this one.
This is just the life cycle. The next generation has been going to hell since well before Socrates, and somehow we pull through. The juvenile delinquents grow up and become the wise elders who cluck about the way things were.
Still, even if we seem to follow the same script for thousands of generations, the dialogue is vital, I think. A couple of us pay attention in our 20s or 30s, a few more in their 40s, and eventually the torch is fully passed.
It’s the same flame. We grow up wise enough finally to grasp it.
Editor and Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-748-2920.