Do As I Say

We fully support Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw’s decision to disallow painting on top of Bell Mountain.

It is with anger and embarrassment that we admit that some of our young people, having been entrusted with a responsibility to behave reasonably, would choose to demonstrate their contempt for our community with vandalism.

The original decision to allow painting of the exposed rock on top of the mountain was not without merit.  It was hoped that by giving official approval to something that was going to happen anyway, it would channel some of that destructive energy into something more manageable. One cannot separate from the young the natural desire to explore existing boundaries and push against them. There are many among the younger generations who push those boundaries by tagging and painting things. They even decorate themselves with ink and piercings. It is a form of self expression, and it is their right.

Vandalism is also a form of self expression when one wishes to express contempt, anger and despair. It is a problem as old as civilization.

But before we get too comfortable sitting in judgment, it might be wise to ask ourselves just how different we really are from the youth we can so easily condemn.

It’s true that, as adults in a civil society who have benefited from education and experience, we usually make better decisions than our children. We still have the same impulses as our young. We still get angry. We still feel contempt. We still have to solve the equations of risk versus reward on a daily basis. But our impulses have been more or less channeled into conformity, or institutionalized.

We condemn the miscreants who destroy and deface public property and natural beauty. But have we really done so much better as adults with the myriad ways we legally impact our environment?

Let’s start with the view from the top of Bell Mountain. Beautiful, isn’t it? Perhaps, if you look to the east at some of the remaining few ridgelines unspoiled by “progress” and “job creation.” There are a few among us who remember the Bell before the distinctive gash visible for miles was created. It was not done in an effort to make the mountain more beautiful.

Look to the west and we see a manmade lake completely surrounded by houses like a bathtub ring – a lake that covered some of the best and most beautiful farmland in the southeast – a declining lake polluted by excess nitrogen and phosphorous, poorly managed stormwater retention,  erosion and sedimentation from badly designed roads and developments, and leaking and failing septic systems.

Take a drive anywhere in North Georgia and look at the shoulders of the road so colorfully decorated by the bright blues and verdant greens of Bud Light cans and Mountain Dew bottles, punctuated with brilliant white highlights in Styrofoam.  The color combinations are very similar to what we see on top of the Bell, and the contempt is almost identical.

Do you like to go outside at night and enjoy the stars that light up the night sky? You may have to drive some distance for that pleasure now that our mountain valleys have been defaced with street lights, and empty houses broadcast their contempt for stargazing and diurnal cycles with floodlights on timers.

If you have driven any distance in America, you will realize that the problems just described of our still-beautiful area pale in comparison to what has happened in other parts of the country. Zoom out for a bird’s eye view and you will see pollution of all kinds, crumbling infrastructure, and the chaos of unplanned, unchecked development. Zoom out far enough and you will see the Great Pacific Garbage Patch as big as Texas.

The chaos, the pollution and the ugliness, all of it, was rendered by responsible adults acting in a legally sanctioned manner, and yet the contempt and the ambivalence behind it is just as palpable as what we see on top of Bell Mountain.

Earth Day is just a few days behind us and a few of us planted a tree or picked up trash. Our culture is big on gestures and resolutions. But we’re going to need more than just a day if we have any hope of changing the behavior we have seen on Bell Mountain – or the behavior that continues to deface and digest the rest of the planet. So we should, by all means, condemn the vandalism which has occurred. We should seek to understand the anger and the contempt behind it, and what that says about our families and our civil society. But in our condemnation, we must also admit that we can only say, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

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