Differing opinions best served from a place of understanding

To the Editor:

Since returning to live in Old Forge a year ago (after two years living in urban Cleveland, Ohio), I am constantly reminded of the unique circumstances of living in a small close-knit community.

There are the chats in the grocery store and post office, the kind deeds and courtesies of neighbors, the noon whistle, and most importantly the opinions. 

Every one of us seems to have an opinion about anything that might come up, whether we saw it in the paper, heard it from a friend or overheard it in the TOW Bar.

Having and hearing opinions is one of the great joys of living here. We disagree, but it rarely diminishes our fondness for one another. We know it is just too small not to get along.

That said, I have witnessed a few local events that have been more divisive than others, projects and ideas that people are more passionately for or against. I think those situations offer us the greatest lessons in civics and in neighborliness.

Recently, I was contacted to write a letter of support in favor of preserving the Hemmer Cottage. I responded that of course preserving the Hemmer Cottage sounded like a fine idea, but that I did not have enough information to write something I could sign my name to.

I was sent more information on the history of the project, and I had read some local newspaper articles. But, I was still missing some information. I didn’t feel like I could fairly have a balanced opinion on this matter without talking to the leadership at the Town of Webb Historical Association (TOWHA). How could I know their reasoning without asking them?

So I made it a point to ask the questions I wanted answered. I dropped in during the Goodsell Museum’s public hours and I asked if anyone had time to fill me in. TOWHA Director Kate Lewis and a member of their Board of Trustees spent an hour explaining the situation from their point of view, and fielding all of my questions. Then, I was offered and given a tour of the Hemmer Cottage.

During the discussion, I could feel their frustration at the situation. They are getting letters and signed copies of petitions. Some people feel angry about them considering selling the Hemmer property.

One of the factors that I personally found most frustrating was that most of the feedback was coming from people who are not TOWHA members or visitors. They are receiving the most feedback from people who are busy sharing their opinions, and are not looking for or offering solutions.

The few suggestions they have heard are not feasible based on the restrictions that are consigned to a non-profit owned building. These are things letter writers would know if they stopped and took the time to ask.

I think my work history within the community has made me fairly sensitive to this type of situation. I have personally been involved with other local non-profits faced with tough choices. (For example, I was on the committee that chose to change the name of the Arts Center/Old Forge to View. It is a topic I still routinely hear feedback about four years later.)

I bring up this topic, not because I think any of the opinions on the Hemmer Cottage are more valid than any others. But, I do believe an informed opinion is superior to an uninformed one.

An informed opinion means that you are part of the discussion. It is a neighborly thing to do to ask questions like, “What is going on?”, “What is your reasoning for this?”, and “How can I help?” before jumping in with your own thoughts.

Approaches like this are not just friendly, but also make your opinion much more ready to be heard, because you heard the other side first.

I think that all of us deciding to first talk to the people involved in the issues we care about will help us to not only live in the type of community we want to, but also ensure that the ideas we express within our opinions will have a better chance of being realized.

Linda Weal

Old Forge

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