Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Frieda: You're an absolute mess. Just look at yourself.

Pig-Pen: [looks at himself in Frieda's mirror and smiles] On the contrary, I didn't think I looked THAT good. (From A Charlie Brown Christmas)

We've been looking at ourselves quite a bit recently in Oakland Mills. Last night provided us a truly "up close and personal" view of the differing ways that people in our village operate under stress. (I was not able to be there, so my comments today come only from what I have gleaned on social media.)

From what I have seen so far, responses seem to be divided between those like that of Frieda, above, and Pigpen. Either: we're an absolute mess, or: I didn't think we looked this good. (Actually, more like: I thought it would be much, much worse.) And all of these responses came from people I know and respect. After all, who else do I know on Facebook? Ahh...lightbulb moment.

Blog posts, private messaging, long Facebook discussions and emails have circulated about this issue. Who sees them? Us. Who is "us"? A relatively small group of thoughtful, caring neighbors and community-builders. And amongst this select group there was significant, though respectful, disagreement.

Who is not us? I hesitate to mention it, but the specter of the Spring election rose again: incendiary flyers distributed door-to-door, angry neighbor to angry neighbor. "Hot" letters to the newspaper to get people stirred up enough to pack the place and be loud. It has worked time and again: the Energizer Bunny, or dare I say, the Evil Twin of community activism.

Wilde Lake resident and Columbia Compass blogger Bill Santos shared some wisdom with me as I began my run for the CA Board. "I was naive," he said. "I just thought that if I went out there and shared who I was and what I believed in, that it would be enough to win people over. But it wasn't." I have been listening to some very good people from the County, or who support the County's plans for the Verona, and I hear that same wistfulness. "We are trying to do good. We thought that would be enough."

Some days, though, it felt a little like, "We are doing this good thing, and if you all could just be the kind of people that you are not, then you would get it." Negotiating with Oakland Mills under these circumstances is not unlike a US company entering a foreign market. (And that is probably true with each village.) McDonald's, for example, has to learn not to sell beef in countries where that is taboo if it wants to succeed.

What does Howard County need to learn about Oakland Mills in order to succeed? What does Oakland Mills need to do in order to harness multiple points of view, varying methods of spreading information, and radically different styles of public behavior?

We have to look at ourselves honestly. We cannot say, "we shouldn't be this way," because, clearly, this is exactly who we are right now. Attempts to shame our community may make those who are disappointed feel better. But don't you think we feel bad enough already? What a a weird, crazy hodgepodge of feisty people make up Oakland Mills. Only in completely accepting the entire uncomfortable picture can we make a realistic plan for how to move forward.

Or, as Oakland Mills Board Member and The 53 blogger Bill Woodcock puts it, "That now what?"


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