Giving Thought: Moving beyond Individualism to Interconnected Understanding
No one is an island. This is especially true in our mountain paradise.
As a culture, we often cling to ideas of individualism and personal achievement, but in reality, we are all connected in both seen and unseen ways.
As we are each in the midst of our own seemingly individual experiences, it is easy to lose perspective of the bigger picture. In a time where calendars are filled with back-to-back activities, our days can blur into one another. We also lack the space to reflect and consider more than what is on our personal agendas. This is not necessarily because we do not care about our neighbors, community members, or those we are sharing space with. Rather, it can be challenging to pull back from our own experiences to accurately account for how they are impacting others or how others’ lives are impacting our own.
In hearing about social issues and struggles, many of us offer solutions or have ideas about how to solve them based on our own perspectives and experiences. While generally well-intentioned, these micro-perspectives fail to capture the full diversity of experiences, thoughts, and perspectives around us.
Aspen as a town helps to support our region with its tourist economy and relies on visitors to fuel the ecosystem. At the same time, the rising cost of living has pushed service workers and professionals further away. As a result, commute times have increased, as have the demands for health and human services down valley — including child care.
When a hotel service employee wakes up before sunrise and leaves their home down-valley to make a more than hour long commute into Aspen, the children they leave behind are impacted. With a long commute bookending the work day, children can be left for 10-12 hours a day. In areas that are considered childcare deserts, this puts families in precarious positions, often leaving older children to care for younger siblings at an age where they too could benefit from supervision. Without childcare or proper supervision, children are put in situations that often lead to a need for further interventions and support down the road for their academic and professional success.
While local businesses are increasing wages and taking action to support and retain their employees in many cases, the costs are often passed along to consumers, leading to higher prices. Inevitably, those higher prices are noted by some as outrageous and local residents lament the loss of accessibly priced dining and activities in our region. This can lead to the closing of beloved small businesses and shifts in what keeps visitors returning.
Each of us plays a role in a much larger system. It is likely that we all agree that we would like to see each community member thrive. So how do we as individuals and organizations who care about our community work towards a more sustainable future for all in our region?
Perhaps it is by first recognizing that no member of our community exists in a vacuum, and that our solutions do not either. Let’s begin by talking to each other and actively listening to answers when we ask questions of those with different lived experiences. When we think of changes to implement, we would be well-served to thoughtfully engage all stakeholders.
Several organizations and groups in our region are doing just that. We saw examples of this at the Habitat for Humanity Housing Summit and Carbondale Arts Symposium this spring; both brought in a range of voices to explore issues. Organizations like Valley Settlement have long included listening tours in their efforts to serve the community.
Individuals seeking to better support their community can also move beyond their individual experiences. Consider asking the person serving your coffee about their commute or what brought them here. If you benefit from the workforce from another part of the region, consider learning more about non-profits or agencies serving the children and families who live there. And if you aren’t sure where to start, organizations like Aspen Community Foundation work closely with partners across the region and have the benefit of a macro-perspective to share.
Collaboration and communication are critical in any environment, but in a rural mountain region it becomes non-negotiable. Every action reverberates well beyond our individual experience and past our current moment.
We might never come to a consensus on solutions, and there will always be unintended consequences, but if each of us is able to move beyond our individual perspectives, a sustainable region where each of us is able to thrive just might be attainable.
Allison Alexander is the Director Strategic Partnerships and Communication at Aspen Community Foundation. ACF with the support of its donors works with a number of non-profits in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys. Throughout the year, we will work to highlight non-profits in the region.