Humans must like conflict. We find new things to fight about every day; and when we can’t find tangible issues such as food, water, or wealth to kill for, we try to decide irresolvable questions like, “Who really speaks for God?” by persecuting or destroying one another. I don’t mean to offend anyone’s religious beliefs, but I don’t think God has empowered any of us to answer that question through violence.
Part of the problem seems to rest with an inability to focus on what matters. We get caught up in the little issues and forget what we’re really trying to achieve in life or in our communities. My hope for Albany is that we continue to build a town that is safe, prosperous, attractive, and generally a nice place to live. Many people over a long time have done good work toward those ends, although much remains to be accomplished. Few good things ever happen, however, without some disagreement.
While disagreement is necessary and often a good thing, destructive personal battles that misdirect limited resources away from important goals are almost uniformly bad. People begin to focus on how to beat the opposition rather than on what is best for the community. We too often forget that winning battles is one means to an end, but seldom an end in itself. George Washington won very few battles during the Revolutionary War and was so discouraged at several times that he believed the revolution would fail. Robert E. Lee, Napoleon, Hitler’s Germany, and Tojo’s Japan won many victories and conquered a large share of the world before leading their causes or countries into disastrous defeats.
Winning at the community level means more investment in improvements; however, investment doesn’t necessarily mean money, and improvements may not be new buildings. Albany’s volunteers who teach, carve, organize, drive, gather food, or any of the other countless tasks they do every day are some of our biggest investors. Programs that help rescue people from drugs and alcohol, civic theater, a great ambulance service, or a thriving business are improvements that make Albany better for all of us. These investors and investments are worthy goals and, in my opinion, should be our focus.
I really don’t care too much about being on the winning or losing side of a particular battle if the outcome brings us closer to being a better community. I’ve read enough history to know that a tactical defeat has often led to a strategic victory. I also have a reasonably good sense of my own fallibility. I don’t like to be wrong, but part of the price of having an opinion is the certainty that it will sometimes be mistaken. That certainty provides an incentive to look at a question from different perspectives and to seek out facts before drawing a line in the sand.
We are winning the war in Albany every day as new people move to and invest here. Fortunately, our battles usually don’t involve violence, but they are still dramatic and important. They justify taking up arms in the form of time, talents, and money to build something worth enjoying and passing down to those who follow us.