Spoon Agave: ‘We must raise the value of community’

BRATTLEBORO — I take a humanist or human rights approach to what I believe is a genuine and appropriate framework for community planning and problem solving.

In this light, assistance goes first to those who need the most help. As I was taught when I was a kid: Everyone gets firsts before anyone gets seconds. Nobody asks to be born. But we're here and we are all entitled to a long, healthy and fulfilling life. This is the nature of being human and thus the basis of our human rights and the responsibilities of good citizenship.

Consistent with the above, I believe in democracy. The best democracies require the highest level of participation and well-informed citizens. It is only under these conditions that decisions can be imbued with integrity and legitimacy.

Many of our most controversial problems arise from a lack of accurate and fully shared information. Two of the questions you will hear me ask most frequently are “How do you know?” and “What do you mean?” That's because our best decisions are based on good evidence of fact and a common understanding.

Too often, our meetings conclude with decisions wrought from exasperation rather than a unified viewpoint. Typical meeting process abets the pitting of one group against another and propels us into winning at any cost rather than finding the best decision for all.

I also believe that in a community we all need to participate. Teachers need to take more responsibility for education. They need to ask if our civic life and decisions reflect an informed populace. The health care field must ask if our citizens are receiving the care they need. Our police need to share what they have learned and weigh in on an action plan. Farmers need to come forward and talk about feeding us.

We need to soften our hierarchical walls so that we all can participate and contribute. It is essential to cease pointing fingers in every other direction and take responsibility for ourselves.

Day by day, this is indeed becoming the reality. Each year our problems grow, yet state and federal assistance declines. We must raise the value of community and mellow the focus on ourselves as individuals.

Is this not the way the human species has evolved and survived? Yes, and that applies to all species, in fact, if one is to believe the biologists and naturalists. Durability and cooperation are vitally linked in economic life, social life, and political life.

My starting point is a firm belief that we all share the same basic needs. We all need a decent place to live, good nutrition, a satisfying job and, by extension, access to good education and training, good health care, and the ability to sleep soundly.

We need to feel safe and secure. Not only for today, but for all time to come.

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