Guest Column: We The (mute) People
Ryan Summerlin March 3, 2014
As people of a democratic nation, we share information and wisdom to reach the best decision. Wait, what am I talking about? We don’t do that in Incline Village and Crystal Bay. Not much, anyway. Take beach access, for example. We don’t talk about that.
International Baccalaureate? I’m not going there again. Incorporating as a city? Can you honestly envision residents cooperating sufficiently to manage the many issues that would arise?
Any community member of even a couple years knows the issues go round and round. Living with bears? We made national news with that one, but not for the issue itself. Now we’re famous for not being able to talk. (“First came the bears, then came the fight over the bears,” The Wall Street Journal, 11-25-13).
This is unfortunate but not surprising. What we are experiencing in Incline is just a smaller version of what’s happening across our land.
The sad truth is, we cannot talk about anything that matters. So we don’t. Most of us don’t. I’ve come to the disheartening conclusion that we cannot vet any local issue, no matter its merit, because we lack the ability to constructively do so.
The first time I saw Incline High School’s We the People students in action two years ago, I was moved to tears.
Seeing teenagers display expansive knowledge of the constitution as well as abundant current and historic civic expertise was impressive, but it wasn’t worth crying over. So what was it, I wondered, that had so moved me?
I realized that witnessing informed civil discourse touched a part of me that had given up. Teenagers, no less, had displayed virtue that has grown rare.
It was their composure, their belief in the system and in conversation, as well as their commitment to reason, not emotion, to argue a case.
They were making a spectacle of themselves in all the right ways. These kids were demonstrating civic life — not us versus them but we, the people.
On Feb. 2, at this year’s state competition in Carson City, one of the judges shared how she had been affected. She commented during her feedback, “You got me to re-think my position.” This, from a state supreme court judge.
A high school kid made a highly educated, successful civic professional rethink her position. He respectfully held his ground when she challenged his views, all the while sharing his opinion with the finest decorum.
So how can we become a community that embraces informed, respectful, rational discussion? And how can we deal with the destructive voices that chase others away?
An excellent start would be reminding ourselves to mind our manners in public and figure out how to handle those who don’t.
The We the People students will be offering a public demonstration to the community on March 13, 7 p.m., at St. Francis Church.
Watching these high school seniors in action, it’s natural to think how good the experience is for their future. But their experience is good for our future. We need what they have, right here, right now. But don’t take my word for it, come see for yourself.
Debbie Larson is an Incline Village resident.