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Britta Gustafson: Living through a tectonic shift in our culture

Britta Gustafson
Then Again

History will show that this period may be our greatest learning opportunity as a society, and will come to define our culture.

No other event in most of our lifetimes has forced us to stop and take stock of the material, social and systemic inequalities that surround our way of living. And for many of us, for the first time, we are faced with more questions than answers about our expectations.

Here in this valley, it feels like the pursuit of pleasure has not been thwarted. Yet for so many of us, escapism isn’t sustainable.

This year, we may not have the income we anticipated or the top-notch education opportunities for our children to which we have become accustomed. We are waking up to a population explosion from which we had the fortune to be sheltered from here for decades. And we may not even ski this winter, which for many of us is the very reason to forge ahead and work way too much. That work-life imbalance has always been offset here by wide open spaces and exceptional recreation opportunities.

It all seems to be adding up to a din of dissatisfaction, a growing, grumbling intonation even as we speak casually to one another. And yet, we are each responsible for how our culture is shifting.

What will our new normal become? Are we going to be proud of our behavior, of the work we have done, of our leadership as a community? Are we doing things we never dreamed possible or giving up in frustration, hopelessly lost and confused?

What story will we live to tell when the COVID-19 pandemic is in the past? Will we make the most of the eye-opening experiences going on right now, or close our eyes and wish on a shooting star for the past to re-emerge?

We think of culture as a set, predominant system of beliefs and mindsets that drive our expectations, but those are unraveling. And I’m not seeing any cohesion even in my cohorts.

When this pandemic began, there was a fantasy phrase of “all in this together,” but now it feels like separation is no longer physical. Our ideas are all over the place and it’s hard to have a clear-eyed view of what culture is emerging. If we can still mold and shape it, what would we want it to become?

When we come together to debate our current affairs it almost seems easier to disagree, dig in our heels, and refuse to listen to the other side. Perhaps that is the root cause of so much pain. But is that who we want to be? Even if it is who we are, should we keep pandering to our less appealing impulses?

Maybe we need a community-culture vision. What would we like our community members to say about us during and after this crisis? Are we “being nice” as our Snowmass Village entry sign requests of us? And why do we need to have a sign that reminds us to “be nice” in the first place? What does that suggest?

What stories will we remember and tell? Acts of compassion and unity, or those of division and self-preservation?”

As a town, what actions, taken now, will we reflect upon in the future? Opportunistic real estate transactions, blackout days for local skiers, grumpy self-righteous shaming or disrespecting others’ health-safety efforts? Can’t we even walk down the grocery store aisles in one direction without rebelling? Some efforts seem so simple and yet even the choice to follow guidelines for the safety of others feels like either an act of complacency or defiance when it should just be out of respect and a sense of community.

Our culture lies at the heart of our choices right now, and we are defining those daily. We can no longer rely solely on our leaders to drive and affect our culture. It is evolving now, and we are each accountable. It’s both a top-down and a bottom-up shift. What we say, do, post and desire are all going to affect our future understanding of what the very word “community” comes to mean.

I would love to see us using this time to learn what practices and behaviors we adopt during this crisis should continue after the pandemic; assuming our disgruntled attitudes toward one another are temporary.

Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at brittag@ymail.com.


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