My view

With freedom comes responsibility, empathetic conversations

By VITO DIBIASI
Posted 11/9/21

I am disappointed with the local candidates’ participation in the Friends of the Milford Aquifer’s candidate questionnaire on the clean drinking water issue. We have gotten to the point …

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My view

With freedom comes responsibility, empathetic conversations

Posted

I am disappointed with the local candidates’ participation in the Friends of the Milford Aquifer’s candidate questionnaire on the clean drinking water issue. We have gotten to the point where we cannot even discuss publicly whether, when we turn on our home faucet, clean water comes out. Of all topics, you would think most can agree on the benefits of their town having clean water. Most do, even across all political affiliations. But there is a fear by some that this cannot be spoken out loud.

Everything has become weaponized: our politics, our religion, where we eat and shop, how we look, who we love, what news we watch, what social media we consume and on and on. It is so toxic out there that people are genuinely fearful for their livelihoods, their businesses and their relationships. If people reveal too much about who they are and what they believe, they genuinely fear retaliation.

Some candidates have personally contacted me with private messages of support but are fearful of the toxic environment out there. We have lost the ability to talk to one another, and that is a terrifying prospect. We have complex problems facing us in reality. Yet we have created these bubbles of different interpretations of reality; we have created almost two different sets of facts and truths.

How do we break this toxicity? Empathetic conversations. This is easier said than done because it means we have to bust through all the name-calling, distrust and fear—to open up to other possibilities. For example, the most productive discussion Friends of the Milford Aquifer had was when our group had a roundtable hour-long talk, off the record, with the Milford Water Authority. We gained a better understanding of their fears and negotiating concerns. When we learn the true backstories about what is going on, it is much better than filling in the blanks with our own fears and prejudices.

As Americans, we take pride in our freedoms. But we forget that with freedom comes responsibility. We have a responsibility to each other whether we like it or not. With the pursuit of happiness comes the recognition of a shared fellowship. But today shared fellowship is hard to come by.

If you were to wander in Flanders Field in France or Arlington Cemetery near Washington D.C., you would see all types of religions and personal preferences represented. They died so we could continue to follow our precious freedoms. But who gets to pursue those freedoms? Everyone? Or just a select few? Are these freedoms only for the rich, or are their systems in place to ensure the commonwealth, where access to resources of growth is also for the less fortunate.

But what happens when locally you build your religion around the implements of war, the so-called “Rod of Iron,” and preach intolerance? How can you then, at the same time, preach the gospel of the Sermon on the Mount and the message of the Beatitudes?

When people call for a return to hometown values and for respect and friendliness, but at the same time associate with either religions or groups based on intolerance and hate, it is appropriate for people to be fearful and skeptical of where the future of their community is headed. Is Milford going to become a cauldron of intolerance and extremism, or can we weave a sustainable community out of our diversity and desire for peace and tolerance? We should find encouragement from the recent reconciliation between the Lenape tribes and the Tom Quick family.

We are almost like addicts on a destructive binge; our society needs an intervention. If only we could all go on a therapeutic retreat together to reconnect with and find joy in our common ground. Because that is not possible, remember the Flanders Field and Arlington Cemetery. Remember that with all their imperfections, this diverse group of soldiers died so that we could freely work out our own imperfections within the common framework that we pledged to each other—three equal branches of representative government, based on a constitution and the rule of law, with liberty and justice for all.

The Pledge of Allegiance does not stop with the word “liberty,” it ends with “and justice for all.” If we pledge allegiance to one group over another and fail to adjudicate our grievances through a just legal system, then where do you think we are headed?

We have many examples around the world as to what happens: the ethnic cleansing/genocide in the Balkans, the genocide committed by Nazi Germany, the conflicts in the Middle East, with the rise of ISIS and the Taliban along with the religious intolerance of the region, the genocide by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the current genocide of the Uyghurs in western China, and our own Civil War.

We always wondered how the Nazi party grew in Germany or how any of these formerly tolerant societies became places of death and destruction. These seeds have been sown in our own society, and now we know how it can happen. But seeds only grow in fertile ground. So what kind of ground are we tending in our community? Are we tending the ground where the seeds of hate and intolerance grow, or are we tending ground where the seeds of peace and reconciliation find a fertile home?

This is a question that I need to answer daily in my personal life. We need to answer this same question collectively every day as a community. For all our hopes and dreams of a better future and a more perfect union, I hope we are tending fields of peace and reconciliation.

Vito DiBiasi lives in Dingman Township, PA.

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