A community of communities
By SKIP MENDLER
Where are we, anyway?
Rain was threatening that Thursday afternoon a few weeks ago. As a volunteer with the Wayne County Creative Arts Council, I was directing visitors from Honesdales Central Park to Lakeside Elementary School, where that evenings Summer Festival of Events concert had been moved due to the weather. Two couples had come up in an SUV from New Jersey to explore the area for the weekend, and had pulled up to the park to find out what was going on. They asked great questions, and the resulting conversation gave me a wonderful opportunity to reflect on some of the unique qualities of our region.
Here we are: rural, agrarian and largely conservative on the one hand, but peppered with urban refugees, holistic practitioners and creative artists on the other. Poised somewhere between the industrial and the agricultural, city and forest, solid hills and a constantly flowing river, were a paradoxical mix, a bundle of seeming contradictions.
How can such a place possibly work?
I think its precisely our rich combination of influences, heritages, values and ideas that does the trick. Richard Florida ( www.creativeclass.org ) notes in his Rise of the Creative Class that openness and tolerance are key factors for attracting creative professionals who bring value to an area without also bringing heavy industrial impacts on infrastructure and quality of life. But that tolerance goes in all directions, and all sectors of society have to value each other and function well together for an area to thrive.
Wild-eyed idealists like myself, for instance, need to be balanced by practical, well-grounded people who can get things donepeople like Bob Suhosky, to whom I want to give a salute as he leaves his post as Executive Director of the Wayne Economic Development Corporation (WEDCO). Though weve disagreed occasionally on various issues, Ive always found Bob to be a principled and dedicated advocate for the economic future of Wayne County, open to learning and to new ideas, and Im sure his contributions will continue to bear fruit here for a long time to come.
Within this larger Upper Delaware community, there are many smaller communitiesnot just places, but communities defined by shared interests, backgrounds or beliefs. Each of us is a member of several of these communities. There is also a natural community that supports and unifies all the human ones. The visioning process currently underway here correctly seeks to recognize all these different communities as stakeholders, give them each a place at the table and craft an inclusive future that takes into account their various contributions as well as their needs.
Such efforts point the way, in my opinion, toward solving the most critical challenge facing us at all levels of society, from the local community to the community of nations: how, given our differences, can we live next to each other retaining our identities as distinct individuals and groups, but also within larger unifying structures?
Democracy is not quite the right word for that kind of society. Going back to the ancient Greek word for community (synecoia), Ive coined a new word, synecocracy, community-based decision making.
As our diversity increases in the future (as we know it will), creating a synecocratic community of communities, showing mutual respect and acceptance (and yes, compassion and gratitude), will enable us to maintain both social cohesion and the extraordinary quality of life that makes this area so easy to brag about to folks who are passing through.