That’s what democracy is. It’s a mess. So is a cake before it’s baked, a pile of parts before it’s a car, and just about any teenager before real life sets in. But it is a glorious mess, isn’t it? That’s because its other names are life, growth, and becoming something better.
Imagine a baby born fully-formed and finished at the age of 21. How nice to just skip that messy growing up stuff. That’s what dictatorial governments try to do. No growth, no development, no improvement possible.
Democracy is the name of the journey, not the destination.
So, thank goodness for our mess. Growing pains are the most powerful creative forces humanity has ever produced. And when it comes to democracy, it is better than cakes and cars. It is more like those teenagers. They can keep on getting better—especially wiser—as long as they are alive.
Part of the mess in a democracy happens when people of good will and intelligence disagree. It usually means there’s more to learn for both sides. Poet Robert Frost squeezed it all down into two little lines:
We dance round in a ring and suppose,
but the secret sits in the middle and knows.
This week your Jamestown Gazette celebrates another growing pain in our local democracy. It is welcome because it is another step in the journey. Read about it on page one of this edition.
This is about Chautauqua Lake, an “invaluable asset for Chautauqua County that enhances the environment and quality of life of its residents, provides recreational and tourism opportunities, and spurs economic development” [quoted from: Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) as of May 1, 2021 between Chautauqua County and various stakeholders in the wellbeing of Chautauqua Lake.]
This milestone along the journey to a better natural resource and wiser stewardship of it is significant. It is a statement of “the intent of all participants to work collaboratively and in good faith to achieve the common goal… it is not a binding agreement”
For local residents who would like a final resolution sooner, one that would instantly guarantee “an ecologically and economically healthy Chautauqua Lake,” the MOU lays out a plan to learn from previous experiences and build on past successes to develop a better agreement and strategy moving forward. In other words, wise democracies learn from experience.
The ground rules recognize that everyone has similar objectives—a sincere interest in improving Chautauqua Lake. In that, they agree to “trust and rely upon…their fellow stakeholders to collaborate and interact in a mutually respectful manner…” and not “to censure or punish those who are accused of unfairly criticizing or denigrating the intent or actions of other…participants,” and that “the health of Chautauqua Lake will benefit more from participants working together versus working apart and in opposition to each other (emphasis added).
“The whole point of collaboration,” according to Architect and renowned designer, Virgil Abloh,
“is that you give and take from each other, and that’s how you create things that are totally new.”
Only the messy process of democratic growth that follows the ground rules of respect and trust will produce those new ideas. So, this week your Jamestown Gazette congratulates the Chautauqua County executive team and the stakeholders on all sides for working toward cleaning up the mess in Chautauqua Lake, a regional and national gem of the natural world whose beauty needs wise grooming by all who love it.
After all, once again quoting the MOU, “The issues that the Chautauqua Lake stakeholders and regulators are challenged with are much broader than just weed management.” This work serves as a model of the glorious mess that is democracy as the best path to growth and progress for all.
“A healthy democracy requires a decent society; it requires that we are honorable, generous, tolerant and respectful.”
American Jurist Charles Willis Pickering Sr.
Thank goodness, ours is a healthy mess.
Enjoy the read.