Tuesday, April 9, 2013


I've really enjoyed listening to last week's This American Life about "Tribes".  While the examples are specific and detailed, the concepts are expansive.  How do we define who is "one of us"?  How do we decide "who is wit us and who is agin' us"?

It's hard to be involved in Columbia politics without thinking, and even talking, about tribes.  There is a disconnect that seems just too far to cross.  Base truths and expectations for our City are completely distinct.  There are "good guys" and "bad guys" identified on each side.  Neutrality may be attempted, but the labels are rarely avoided. The sides are defined by conflict.  The most glaring example recently has been the development of Symphony Woods park.  The tribes have set stakes on where the positions lay. 

Then outside of that, there is the identity of being a Columbian at all.  Having failed to create an identity for ourselves amongst all our squabbling, Columbia may be better defined by outsiders.  Even then, the label is loose.  "Columbians think they own everyone else's land and can tell them what to do with it."  In fact, it is those heated discussions over local affairs that tend to define us the most.  Recently, I've been told that Columbia politics are "too nasty" paired with amazement that anyone would expose themselves to those kind of attacks.

Internally, it is jarring to hear some Columbians talk about the "rest of Howard County", as if we should put up gates to protect our Open Space from intrusion.  This is all premised on the Columbia Parks & Recreation Assessment (CPRA) that is also referred to as a "lien", a "tax", or "CA Dues".  Certainly, for about $2,000 a year, one could find a nice gated community to live.  The paths may not be as long and the lakes will not be as big, but you can be sure that the money you spend for the purposes of exclusion will be used satisfactorily.

But boiled away of all of that, we're all just people that picked a spot to live.  Whenever I look at another person reading me the riot act about Symphony Woods, or see a nasty comment online, I think about that person's family.  I know that this person is the protagonist of their own story.  They have been tricked into "tribe warfare" to ease the objectification of their "enemy".  We see this most clearly in National politics.  Wouldn't it be odd to hear someone say the same things about a next door neighbor or a golfing buddy as they do about President Obama/President Bush?  Next time you see a nasty Internet meme or hear about a talk radio conspiracy theory, think about it in those terms.  Is this tribe warfare?

It's hard though.  It is hard to see another person as a reasoned human being while hearing them tear you down.  And there is a positive side to tribes as well.  The inherent support and derivative confidence can help individuals do big things.  I guess it all depends on how you see your community.  Come together to tear things down or work together to build things up.

That's all for today.  Have a great Tuesday doing what you love.