Listen Up, Talk it Out

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, angry, cynical or hopeless

By Mike Jopek

The straight pipe roared as the truck approached, accelerating down the road from the fishing access. It got louder, then slowed, and sped around the bend.

The boys drove as women stood in the truck bed wearing swimsuits, hanging onto the roll bar with both fear and excitement in their voices. Between them fluttered an American flag with a portrait of the president broadcast across the stripes.

Moments later, I heard the tires burning, spinning on the hot pavement, more hollering, and then screeches. The straight pipe blared, thundering up the road, toward the highway. Tire tread remains on the road by the stop sign. It’s a good one.

This summertime in the Flathead feels busy. Towns buzz as congestion returned to the streets and life in rural Montana took a serious tone. Local people earning a living and raising a family are still navigating the fresh reality that the contagion is working its way across the planet.

In the halls of power, Congress is on a two-week recess. Next month, they enjoy another four weeks away from D.C. I get it, it’s hard work. I hope they get that life remains painful for regular Montanans. Issues like health care, paying the bills, and how kids safely get back into schools top a long list of concerns facing locals. The sickness continually spreads and residents are adapting to the reality. It’s a tough learn. None of us like it, some of us ignore it better than others.

Whitefish became among the first places in Montana urging townspeople, businesses, and visitors to wear masks in public, finding compromise between ideologies that favor science of masks to slow spreading COVID-19 in the community, with those adamant that masks are an invasion of personal freedom.

Longtime Whitefish councilor Andy Feury said at the meeting, “I had someone say to me the other day, ‘You know, pants are uncomfortable but I do it for you,’ and I think that’s about right. No matter how much science I pull out of the drawer, or whatever rabbit hole I go down on the internet, I’m not going to convince anyone to change their beliefs. But somehow in this country we have lost the ability to compromise. We all feel so unabashedly certain that our viewpoint is the correct one that we have no time for others.”

Feury was among the people I watched when I first got into local politics a couple decades ago. He and another old-time leader, Chet Hope, were the pair whom caught the attention of my younger eyes as I sought guidance to political service. Their patience reassured me that leaders were not born, rather groomed by a community.

Council meetings start 10 minutes past the hour to honor the memory of Dr. Hope who routinely ran a bit late. I look back on those younger days and admire the tenacity of people who had vision for their town.

Whitefish has been growing up for years. We’ve come a long way but our work is far from over. The months ahead are sure to be rocky. We need leaders who work hard, listen, and take action. There’s a way onward. Trust me. Keep it simple, outside the box at times.

Civil society needs more than civil discourse. We need action. The issues facing our parents, kids, workers, business owners and retirees are enormous. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, angry, cynical or hopeless. Try kindness and take action.

Luckily for us, we’re surrounded by open forestland, clean water and a friendly community to help us navigate turbulent times. The great outdoors offers plenty of hope for a new day. Be smart about it. There’s room to distance.

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