Lauren R. Stevens: Comity is needed to repair our world

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WILLIAMSTOWN — Let me tell a story about my snow thrower, which may have some bearing on the Rest of the River settlement and the Rest of the World as we know it.

My John Deere tractor is 16-years-old. In the summer I attach the mower deck; in the winter, the snow thrower. (Technically a snow thrower runs off the tractor engine, while a snowblower has a separate source of power.) I have mowed my lawn and plowed my driveway — until, in the last few years, the belt that drives the snow thrower started breaking, at first occasionally then frequently.

We had a heavy snowstorm a bit after Thanksgiving 2019. At the end of cleaning that up, the belt went again. The tractor and snow thrower went into the shop. And then again, when the belt broke in the next storm. According to my occasional inquiries, the shop spent most of February trying this and that fix. Meanwhile I have shoveled my 150-foot long drive. When I called early March the repair guy explained that the belt spun `round and `round in the shop, no problem. He had made a few small adjustments that might or more likely might not hold up under actual snow conditions. The tractor came home, awaiting snow.

After a long wait, I would rather have had assurances of a guaranteed repair, of course. I'm disappointed. But I've done business with that dealer over many years. I know the guy did his best and I appreciate that he was honest with me.

After a long wait, some people are disappointed by the settlement with GE concerning the rest of the Housatonic River. And yet the Berkshire people — elected and unelected — who spent long, intense hours helping frame that proposal are our friends and neighbors, people with whom we've rubbed shoulders and done business for many years. Even if we disagree with the plan, we should honor, not abuse those who offered it.

Furthermore, we should consider carefully their good faith proposals. We are free to disagree, of course, but with the understanding that cleaner, healthier river and riverside communities is the shared goal.

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Those of us in Berkshires have the great good fortune of living in small communities where interactions are personal. We share our views robustly, express out emotions, listen to each other and come together to work out solutions.

Consider the alternative. We can't help but consider it, as we are constantly exposed to national debates devoid of the considerations owed to one another. The obvious example is the political sphere, with a smoldering president who erupts like Vesuvius. Are we going to let him set our behavior?

The world is broken and we're not really sure how to fix it, whether my snow thrower, the Housatonic River, the changing climate, the coronavirus or many other scary things. The debate over repair becomes intense, fractured, essentially destructive. It is hard to come together, in partisan times, to seek solutions. What an irony if, in the absence of humans uniting in the fight, slowing the threat of climate change required a virus's devastating effect on humans and their economy.

The word for what is missing in much of the country is "comity," meaning "courtesy and considerate behavior toward others." We can try to imagine what it would be like if the greater world were practicing comity. We can hardly imagine it if we don't practice it ourselves, here.

At least, that's how it looks from the White Oaks.

A writer and environmentalist, Lauren R. Stevens is a regular Eagle contributor.


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