Teri Orr: A holiday wish…
It was one of those simple Facebook posts from a local friend.
“Just out of curiosity what do YOU (personally — for yourself — wildest dream) want for Christmas?”
And I responded in a very unfiltered spontaneous way. I wrote … “One entire week where nothing happens. Just an old fashioned week of average days strung together. No drama, no crisis, no erupting news cycle. Just a week of home-cooked meals eaten slowly. Conversations with dear friends. A fat book. A strong whisky. A warm fire with cedar and piñon. A deep tub filled with cheap bubble bath. Sleeping in. Squishy socks. Cozy hoodie. Music that soothes. Candles that aren’t scented in some creepy way. Flowers in each room. A trusted friend who knows when to drop by unexpectedly and when to be scarce. Two movies at the movie theater in one day. Ice cream eaten in bed … too much?”
I didn’t ask for world peace or a better government or even snow. I was asking for a break. It was reflex oriented. And when I reread it later — after folks started to respond to it — I realized I wasn’t alone.
There weren’t any postings that followed that asked for peace on earth either. We were all — in a variety ways — asking for personal peace. And I realized how battle fatigued so many of my friends and my friend’s are.
In my work world, I am monitoring a few sites where one of our upcoming performers is mentioned. Most comments are positive but the negative ones are so hateful and vile and base I have been shocked by the need for strangers to spew out such unfiltered, uneducated hate. A big fan of debate and freedom of expression, I have been forced to take down some posts that describe what they want to do this performer in graphic terms. And one person responded to others’ mean-spirited comments with a phrase that caught my heart … they talked about internet trolls and how such hate has become the norm. …“when cruelty becomes a commodity.”
God, I wish I had written that.
For days now I have turned that phrase around in my head — when cruelty becomes a commodity. … Because I think this is my exhaustion locally. Civility has become passe — the new normal is vicious attacks on not institutions but on individuals. Not hateful national issues or “bad actors” as journalists so often like to label folks in business or the private sector who do bad deeds. The attacks and the unprecedented cruelty are toward hard-working humans who show up and pour their hearts into making our community a better one — those are the very folks we have taken to emotionally eating alive.
And you can say we became a kind of echo chamber of national cruelty. As if somehow it was OK to say things in an anonymous way, judging on a national level, people we had never met, then certainly that could be a blood sport in our own backyard. So now, instead of being solution-based and grateful for anyone who works in a public fashion in a passionate way for their profession, instead we just find the loose thread and yank on it until we delight in the unravel. And then, as a pack, we move on to the next person and the next loose thread.
We talk a lot about preserving things in Park City — buildings and arts and open space and the amorphous “way of life.” But I have come to understand what we really have destroyed like clear cut and a fire through old wooden buildings is kindness, civility, problem solving by folks who respect each other’s differences. Respect for those who work any time of the day or night as needed not because it is required by their job but because it is required by their own personal internal ethical moral code.
And one by one we are watching those good humans walk away from public service. Even if their jobs are not public ones. Doing well no longer translates to doing good but rather “more for me.” And compromise is failure not success. And as the wise man wrote on the internet, “cruelty becomes a commodity.”
If we want to really protect the town we moved to, or in a few cases were lucky enough to be born into, we have to show that when we used that Olympic slogan so freely in the early 2000’s — the world is welcome here — we meant it. We wanted diversity back then, we wanted to learn from one another’s differences. We wanted to create harmony even in competition and we wanted to cheer all the folks who showed to compete — equally. We celebrated in style and built facilities but we also built relationships that fostered goodwill. We worked hard in every job. Long hours and little sleep were OK short term because the legacy we were building was about hope and we were all appreciative of what it meant for a small town to compete on a world stage. We knew how get along to move along.
And now, my little town is filled with strangers. Not people I don’t know so much as people’s behaviors I don’t recognize. The missing decency I thought was local. Divisive mean-spirited people who need to win the debate and enjoy the blood sport.
I don’t know how we fix it. I don’t know how we got here. I don’t know how we keep good people or attract good people to stay here. I do know it involves taking back our community in a way as meaningful as any redevelopment project ever tackled. Preserving a way of life isn’t up to government to solve. It is up to me and you and all those folks who visit to enjoy our community any day, especially Sundays in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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Teri Orr will miss her neighbor, a man whose “influence on this city — from the ’80s until this fall — is nearly impossible to measure.”