Op/Ed

Editorial: Fight indifference in 2022

ANGELO LYNN

It’s no surprise that COVID-19, the delta variant and its effect on our collective lives would be the Addison Independent’s top story of 2021; just as it (and President Joe Biden’s election over Donald Trump) was in 2020. It’s likely the twists and turns of this pandemic will remain dominant in our lives in 2022 as well.

To that end, it’s not hard to see the challenge in front of us and to move in productive ways — as individuals and as a community — to navigate those waters as best we can and get on with the more agreeable, more enlightening, more satisfying rituals of life.

In short, a successful 2022 will be in understanding how to manage COVID-19 and its inevitable variants, so that we can rediscover the energy, passion and enthusiasm of living a full and rich life. More specifically, so that we build our communities into centers of camaraderie, divergent interests, and commercial enterprises that spark growth and new ideas in ways that support our youth, families and entrepreneurial spirit.

Utopia? Is that what this whacked-out editor is talking about? Some Pollyanna vision of a perfect life here in dreamy, sun-drenched Addison County? Is he feeding us more of what Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at Wharton, described earlier in 2021 as “toxic positivity — that quintessentially American pressure to be upbeat at all times.”

Why can’t he address our reality and admit that the answer to the greeting, “Hey, how are you?” is that we haven’t been that great; that 2021 was a downer; that we lost that jingle in our step, that twinkle in our eye. That it’s been hard to see life in an optimistic framework and truly believe in it.

Grant has a term for this mental state: languishing. “Languishing,” Grant says, “is the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at full capacity. Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work.”

It’s an interesting observation of the times. Grant goes on to say that “part of the danger is that when you’re languishing, you might not notice the dulling of delight or the dwindling of drive. You don’t catch yourself slipping slowly into solitude; you’re indifferent to your indifference.”

That last phrase strikes a chord.

When the pandemic hit the nation two years ago this coming March, Vermonters rallied to take care of each other. We bravely sacrificed for the good of others; we scrubbed our hands until they were raw; we wore masks, worked from home, shuttered businesses as told, and soldiered on. Two years later, we’ve drifted into indifference to the virus, but also an indifference that life won’t be as joyful as it once was.

That, of course, is nonsense.

The world as we know it has weathered much greater crises. The challenge we face today is to rededicate ourselves to making progress on the challenges we face, while not getting sidetracked with the daily worry of the pandemic.

On the global stage, little is more important than addressing climate change, the rise of nationalism, and the undermining of democratic norms. On the state and local stage, a look at the Addison Independent’s top 10 stories in 2021 (See our Jan. 6 edition for the full list), gives us an idea of what some of those challenges will be in 2022.

  • Schools: The issue of consolidation will remain in the forefront as Ripton, Lincoln, Starksboro, Monkton and other schools contemplate steps forward within or outside of their school districts. Creative solutions have been hard to come by, but surely as partisan positions give way to a desire to find mutual benefits, we can find a way forward. More important for most school districts is the need to address student “dysregulation” in the classroom — that is, student disruption caused by a number of issues, mostly pandemic-related, but also magnified by labor shortages in the schools. How we tackle that issue will be key to student success in the coming year.
  • Labor shortages: It’s long been obvious that one of the biggest challenges facing Addison County is a shortage of skilled labor. As a consequence, growing businesses have often moved to the Burlington area with its larger workforce. A shortage of affordable housing exacerbates the problem in Addison County. It’s unlikely we can move the needle on this front in a single year. But we can work toward two fronts: on housing shortages, zoning regulations in Middlebury and other communities can be changed to allow greater housing density in our downtowns. By allowing so-called mother-in-law apartments, by relaxing permitting processes for condominium or apartment complexes and other commercial buildings, we can make housing more affordable and encourage more commercial development.

More immediately, as communities, we can take the maximum precautions to keep our population healthy. That means taking personal responsibility to wear masks in public places, self-quarantine when sick or exposed to others who are, and in general behave in ways that stop the spread of the virus. A healthy population keeps our current workforce on the job, not at home convalescing or taking care of others.

  • Economic development: The bright side of the pandemic is that it has poured millions of dollars into our local economies in the form of infrastructure improvements — from addressing water pollution from municipal wastewater treatment plants to toxic pollutants in our water supplies, to repairing bridges, fixing roads, and spurring economic development. Used wisely, these funds can spark growth for the next decade and lay the foundation for continued renewal.

Middlebury, in particular, has recently weathered a tough four years of destruction and reconstruction, but with a rebuilt downtown that looks better than ever, a new passenger rail station coming online this spring, and new businesses filling vacant building downtowns, there are signs of revitalization that should prompt a renewed energy and excitement among residents. Cultivating that enthusiasm and directing it into a force of dynamism is the challenge of the community’s new generation of leaders.

The arts, and outdoor recreation, are strong throughout Addison County and can provide vital energy in our drive to create communities that attract others to the county’s high quality of life — an attribute that is not to be over-sold, nor undervalued. Many communities throughout the country are selling this same idea — and many are doing it much more successfully. Doing it better here is a challenge we must embrace.

**********

As we look ahead to 2022, the first challenge is to clear the fog created by the pandemic, to fight the indifference, and to find joy and satisfaction in making progress toward our priorities.

Start with small steps and small victories — something that helps where you work or making sure your home environment is better — then something to help the environment, your church, your community. It doesn’t matter how small the action is, the fact is that you can make the world around you better by taking positive actions.

Angelo Lynn

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