The Fort Smith Experience Part 15 (i)

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”   ~ Marie Curie


I recall a community meeting I attended several years ago where the subject up for discussion was bike trails and the possibility of allocating a trickle of funds from one source of revenue or another (don't recall exact details) to fund the establishment of these trails.  There were three city directors facilitating the meeting but the only one I distinctly remember was Velvet Medlock-Graham (that gives you an idea of how long ago it was).

While the details of this meeting don't stand out with any clarity in my memory, the focus of the various individuals that spoke up at the meeting, either eagerly about the trails, or conservatively about the trails, does. As I review this memory, I don't recall anyone being, at least overtly, totally against the trails.

During the meeting, those  excited about the prospect of the trails spoke with enthusiasm as they focused on the gains that would come to the citizens and the city by having the bike trails.  They made reasonable points regarding how the gains, over time, would far out weigh the investment.  They shared stories of the success of similar projects in other cities.  The opposing side, those individuals that were taking a much more cautious approach, fixated their focus on what would be lost, the sacrifices that would have to be made and so on, by going forward with this project.  These folks also made points that seemed to support their views (their fears). For me, though, their points were empty. Fear just can't speak with any reason unless, of course, it is speaking to fear…then it all seems very reasonable. By the way, the individuals in the conservative category clearly out numbered the enthusiasts.

In this particular community meeting, and I'm sure that there have been many, many others like this one, the dominant and prevailing mindset of the city showed itself.  The Fort mentality aka, the Fear mentality, aka the Can't mentality rose up displaying and asserting its dominance. It is important to note that in this particular meeting the defensive stance wasn't coming from the directors but from the citizens themselves.

Many of us are fond of pointing accusing fingers at our city board of directors, our city administrators and those powerful, elusive, manipulating puppet masters (that we all know are hiding somewhere in the shadows), as being the source of the numerous maladies the city of Fort Smith manifests. However, for us to think that the fort mentality is isolated to the upper management and power brokers of the city, and to think that the subconscious of the populace of the city hasn't also been infiltrated and usurped by this unseen, inappropriate, abberated thought system i.e., the fort mentality, is…well…it's imbecile! The fort mentality is highly infectious. But how did it manage to infect such an enormously large segment of the city's population?

The fort mentality has been and continues to be the dominant prevailing thought system (belief system) of Fort Smith.  It was there, appropriately so,  when the military fort (Fort Smith) was conceived and it continued on, inappropriately so, as the fort transitioned and transformed into a city.  The city, even though it no longer physically appeared as a military fort, its fort identity and fort behavior persisted as an ever strong and influential under current dictating the behavior of the city.

In examining Fort Smith we see a city that has emerged out of what had been a military fort.  As it emerges it takes on the physical appearance of a city, but continues to think and behave as if it were still being a fort.  In other words, its the butterfly that is still being its former self the caterpillar.  The fort mentality and behavior are chronic, although they become increasingly more subtle, but no less influential, as time passes.  Generations of Fort Smith citizens are born and raised in the city.  All the while as the city's generations of children grow into adulthood they are, on a subconscious level, mimicking, learning and displaying in their choices and behavior, the predominant mindset of the city i.e., the fort/fear mindset.

The children of the city grow up and eventually become parents with children of their own. Their children, too, on a subconscious level, do as their parents did before them.  They mimic. learn and display in their choices and behavior, the predominant fort/fear mindset of the city.  This is how the contagion of an aberrated thought system occurs.  It does not occur through the physical genes, it occurs in the mind through the fundamental learning process of mimicry.  This is also how the aberrated thought system (the mental illness) of Fort Smith becomes the deeply rooted, baffling, perplexing, self-abnegating, self-sabotaging culture that is peculiar to  Fort Smith. This culture is probably most easily recognized in the "But..reality" that is so prevalent throughout the city e.g., "It's a wonderful idea you've got there…But…it will never happen in Fort Smith."

Unfortunately, the contagion of the fort/fear mindset of Fort Smith is not limited to its home grown residents.  Any newcomer to the city is subjected to the mindset in their environment.  And, in many cases, like the home grown resident (if they hang around long enough), will begin to subconsciously assimilate the city's fear based culture through process of mimicry.  It's along the lines of what happens when people move to a region where the accent spoken is different than their own and, after a while, they begin to assimilate and demonstrate, in varying degrees, the accent of those were they reside.

The fort/fear mindset that rules over Fort Smith can be seen everywhere throughout the city. Indeed, the city is inundated with it. It is easily seen manifest  throughout city administration's behavior as well as in the behavior of the general populace, the various groups, organizations, institutions and business of the city.

Probably the easiest and most obvious way to spot the fort/fear mindset is in both the subtle and gross misalignments (contradictions) that abound in the city.  The contradictions between what is said and what is done i.e., what is said to support, safeguard and forward a purpose, in action, only serves to inhibit, mitigate or thwart the purpose.  In other words, the city has learned to talk like a city but is continuously compelled to act like a fort.

As obvious as it is to see the fort/fear mentality in its abundance and proliferation, if a person is living in fear (and they probably don't even realize they are), they will not recognize fear as fear but will instead misidentify it as being reason, rationality, common sense, intelligence, benevolence and so on. And, they will follow it, support it, defend it, forward it and comply with it.

Having a conversation with Fort Smith is like having a conversation with a butterfly that you happen to meet up with out in the garden.  The butterfly enthusiastically goes on and on about its planned flight of migration that its going to embark upon just as soon as it finishes talking to you.  You leave the garden and return the next day and are surprised to find the butterfly still clinging to the stalk of the same plant it was on the day before when you spoke with it.  As soon as it sees you it begins telling you the very same thing it told you in your previous conversation.  You bid the butterfly farewell and wish it good luck on its flight. A week later you return to the garden and the butterfly is still on the same plant and the content of the story it tells has not changed one iota.  A year later, a decade later, a century later…the story never changes.  But, because you always see a butterfly, it never dawns on you, that the conversations you keep having with a butterfly are actually conversations with a caterpillar.

Again, I ask the question…what is the city of Fort Smith (the city that is being a fort) so desperately trying to keep from losing?