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Democracy Isn’t Easy

To the Editor:

When I was a new Foreign Service Officer, I had an experience that taught me an important lesson which, if I can tell it right, may be equally useful for readers.

It was Seoul, Korea, 1981. Ronald Reagan was president, and had decreed that the U.S. Embassy could not talk to dissidents in that authoritarian allied country. But diplomats always talk to dissidents. Their job, after all, is to understand the host country.

So, I and two other junior officers drew the duty of maintaining contact with the representatives of dissident leaders Kim Dae Jung and Kim Young Sam. We had many conversations, over spicy Korean meals and many bottles of Johnny Walker Red. I grew to admire our contacts very much. They had all spent time in jail, and were risking their futures for their beliefs. We talked about democracy. And here’s what I learned.

People who haven’t experienced it make two mistakes about democracy: They think it’s easy, and they think when they have it, everything will go their way. We who have enjoyed democracy for over 200 years know how hard it is and realize that bitter compromise is at its core. Korea is a democracy now, having achieved that status gradually in the early 1990s — nearly 40 years after the Korean war. But Korea had many advantages. It‘s a homogeneous, unified country. There are no important ethnic or religious differences. And virtually every citizen wanted democracy.

But imagine how much more difficult the process of evolving into a democracy is for the countries of the Middle East. The societies in these countries are all deeply divided. They are condemned by a zero-sum culture, where any gain by an opponent is an unacceptable loss. Worst of all, deadly violence seems always to be an acceptable option. These countries are important to us, if only because their angry citizens see us as one of the causes of their problems. We need to deal with them. But this problem is going to last a long time. We need to be patient, understanding and wary.

Stephen R. Rounds

Piermont

No Gun Problem in Vermont

To the Editor:

I disagree entirely with the opinion that Vermont has a gun problem. If I see someone committing a violent crime, I shoot him/her — no problem. If we have to consider gun control, just look to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the top court in the country ruled solidly in favor of the rights of gun owners.

I live a peaceful life, minding my own business, threatening no one with my hidden Glock Model 17 handgun. But if I see someone committing assault and battery on a child, or committing arson at a school, or robbing a bank or grocery store, I will simply get out my G17 and end the crime immediately. The cops cannot be everywhere, and I do not expect them to be. The U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment gives me the freedom to comprehensively protect myself and nearby innocent persons. I will therefore honor our founding fathers and the Second Amendment.

Mitchell A. Ota

Hartford

Article Promoted Inhumane Treatment

To the Editor:

I have been very heartened to see several letters condemning the article written by Henry Homeyer on his delight at watching animals performing in circuses. I would like to add to these condemnations the following comments:

First, although I have been a staunch supporter of the Valley News for 30 years, I am thoroughly shocked that this newspaper would print an article of this ilk, which thoughtlessly promotes the cruel and inhumane treatment of animals.

Second, I would like to ask Mr. Homeyer a question. How would you like to spend the rest of your life in a cage (no gardening in one of those) and be hauled out on frequent occasions to perform often painful, always demeaning tricks in front of a loud and terrifying crowd of humans?

Third, to both the Valley News and Mr. Homeyer, I suggest you do some reading on the subject of sanctuaries that rescue circus animals. Some of the stories they tell are truly horrific. These compassionate people try to heal both the physical and emotional wounds of the animals and give them a safe and happy environment in which to end their days. I especially recommend visiting the website for The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee — http://www.elephants.com/

Rosalind E. Finn

South Strafford

Irreplaceable Warmth of Smiling Eyes

To the Editor:

I’m offended when I walk by a person either texting or talking on a cell phone completely ignoring my passing presence. I’m bothered when a doctor spends much of my appointment time typing the state of my health into a computer with little eye contact and conversation with me, the patient. I’m unnerved by the driver of a car who is also texting or talking on a cell phone while driving.

Are we losing sight of the quality of human contact by being so closely tethered to our electronic devices? The average Facebook user has over 300 “friends” but how many of these does he or she really know? Match.com allows one to find a potential mate online, but both individuals need to meet in person to confirm or disconfirm impressions obtained from a distance. Blind dates based on a friend’s description were never successful for me in real time. FaceTime or Skype allows you to capture nonverbal cues such as body language, gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice but physical contact is missing. Evidence exists that those receiving a supportive touch either from a teacher or a doctor are more likely to feel engaged or listened to.

We need to ask a basic question: What does it mean for us to be connected with others? I like to think of making connections in these ways: first, verbally using email, Twitter, or Facebook, then a distant, face-to-face connection using Skype or FaceTime, and finally, a physically present face-to-face connection. In my experience, proceeding in this order increases my emotional and social connection. We need a balance in our use of these devices and to acknowledge that no smiley face can replace the warmth of smiling eyes of a loved one in real time.

Bob Scobie

Hanover