Some old timers that like to chide me for being an environmentalist used to call me a “deep breather.” 

Given the difficult times these days, taking a few good deep breaths every morning has come in handy. With the onslaught of news, conflict and raw emotions running amuck, without those deep breaths, it’s hard for me to stay balanced these days. 

The year started off pretty well but before we knew what hit us the Coronavirus knocked us to our knees as the most significant health crisis in a lifetime. Next came the resulting economic downturn that has already knocked folks to the floor. Then, just as we see light at the end of the tunnel, social unrest explodes across the country on the issue of racism that has been boiling at the surface for decades if not centuries. 

Worst of all, social media has allowed the tension that can’t help but be felt from these issues metastasizing throughout our heads, our hearts and our communities. Rather than focusing all of our collective energy on truly resolving the issues at hand, we’re forced to fight the tumors of fear and self-righteousness that stem from tweets, posts and chats. 

For better or for worse, I’ve largely steered clear of social media for this very reason. One of my favorite pastimes is a good healthy debate on difficult but meaningful issues and as odd as it sounds, I genuinely welcome opposing viewpoints. As an elected official, I have been chastised for not engaging online and I’m sure I miss some good stuff, but I have no doubt that the quality of my discussions, my relationships and my state of mind is better off for it. 

What becomes apparent when you are faced with making community-wide decisions on challenging issues, is the complexity that emerges when you know you’ll be held accountable. No longer can a witty tweet or cynical post ‘win the argument.’ Likewise, encouraging words without the action to back them up become especially meaningless when the stakes are high.

Whether its climate change, Coronavirus, gun violence or racism, the stakes just keep getting higher. Right now there seems to be a new level of awareness and intention around police use of force and the racism that is all too often embedded within it. 

As such, even in little, funky  Carbondale folks are asking, some are even demanding, that the town “take action to decrease police violence.” But what does that mean for a town and a police department that already values and practices the core tenets of community policing? 

I’m sure you know we’ve recently hired our next Chief of Police, Kirk Wilson, so it’s an opportune time to review our policies, engage with the public and respond accordingly. I was thrilled to learn that before I could even speak to him about these ideas, he and our stellar team of police officers were brainstorming a Carbondale Citizen Police Academy. The idea is to share what we do and why, learn from you what works and what doesn’t, and evolve as best we can. What a great idea.

In closing I’ll share a powerful thought from writer Casey Sep: “Our hearts are changed not by airtight argument or moral perfection but by direct encounters with human needs and those who rise to meet them.” In recent months I have never been so proud or inspired to be a part of a community that embodies this thought. It’s amazing how political polarities fade away when neighbors need help.

So I ask that as tensions and conflicts arise, we continue to seek direct encounters so we can truly understand and appreciate the needs of our neighbors. Undoubtedly, they will be complex and challenging, but if we take a few deep breaths, and talk rather than tweet, we will surely rise to meet them.