Show respect regardless of views
November 15, 2012
I write in response to Agustin Goba’s letter to the editor Saturday titled “Shame on Aspen Times columnist.”
It is not an understatement to say that Goba abusively attacks Melanie Sturm not simply for the words she writes in her biweekly Aspen Times column but also as a person. Goba calls Melanie an “egregious liar” and an “embarrassment to Americans” and concludes with the vulgar statement that Melanie’s “crap stinks.”
I respect Goba’s right to express his views, and am glad to see citizens such as Goba engaging in our democracy. I am, however, deeply troubled by Goba’s vitriolic demonizing of Melanie and her viewpoints. I believe other community members share my concern. Even when we disagree on the issues, each of us deserves respect from our fellow community members when we debate those issues.
Democracy is government predicated on the meaningful exchange of ideas. It is through thoughtful and respectful debate about the issues that we move forward in understanding one another and resolving our common challenges. Goba’s attack on Melanie does not move forward this goal. Words such as Goba’s only intimidate and embarrass, resulting in the disengagement of others with important things to say for fear of being attacked.
I co-founded the nonpartisan Aspen Democracy Initiative this year to better involve Aspen young adults in civic engagement. In part, I founded the organization because younger citizens, the future leaders of our community and country, are under-participating in government. They are turned off from public life, and they fear that their participation, whether through a letter to the editor or through a run for office, will result in their being demonized the way Goba demonizes Melanie. This trend should trouble us all.
I happen to know firsthand that Melanie does assiduous research for every one of her columns. The fact is that there are different ways to interpret the facts. While Goba and others might disagree with Melanie, Melanie is not the liar that Goba stigmatizes her to be. In contrast to Goba, I applaud Melanie’s courage to write on ideas and positions that generally are held in the minority in our community. In that regard, Melanie is a deeply important contributor to the exchange of ideas we have here in Aspen.
We all learn more if we open our minds and consider positions that differ from our own. Indeed, I believe we all must start from the premise that there are smart people on both sides of the aisle who love our community and country equally. We must treat our fellow community members with decency and respect, even when we disagree with them, and we must expect that of one another. Our democracy depends on this.
Politics is important, but it starts with being a good neighbor. And being a good neighbor means showing respect for one another, the kind of respect that forms the foundation of any strong community, country and democracy.