My plea – let go of the Roundabout


Consulting psychologists recommend that obsessions can be tricky. The thinking goes like this. Obsessions, good, bad, ugly, mild, intense, homicidal, or philanthropic — they are all fundamentally unhealthy. Some — presumably, the least unhealthy — are personally threatening. They may distort one’s ability to get along with others, but not the ability of others to get along among themselves.

On the other hand, some are community-wide in scope and baleful in their destructive effects on generalized community mental health.

The latter is the kind of obsession I’m worrying about. Now, community newspapers reflect the communities in which they publish. Whatever obsesses members of those communities spawns in the bowels of the people, not in the newspaper’s columns. But, there may be moves the newspaper can make to bend the curve of obsession to manageable levels.

Which brings me to the Roundabout debate that has raged at for months. For the health of the Martha’s Vineyard community, it’s time to bring the curtain down on this consuming squabble. Three of four towns –— among them the three largest — have signaled in non-binding referendum votes that they do not want the Roundabout built. One, the town to which the Roundabout is destined, says it wants it. The nays outweigh the yeas. And, given the natural unwillingness of most voters to get off their duffs and vote, the result is not even nominally conclusive as to Vineyard sentiment on the question. What to draw from this?

First, deciding such questions by plebiscite is unwieldy and inefficient, measured in so many ways. And, especially in Massachusetts, non-binding referendums enjoy no more appreciation than does a pesky fly on an elephant’s rump. (In this figure of speech, we are the fly.) In fact, binding referendums — you may recall the Massachusetts question that asked voters to lower the state income tax — don’t bind political leaders either. (Extending the metaphor to an embarrassing degree, Beacon Hill swatted us but good over the cut taxes issue.)

Next, we need to remember that the forces behind the construction of the Roundabout, to replace the four-way stop that replaced the Blinker, have been thinking about, planning, and approving their own plans for nearly a decade. This includes the Oak Bluffs selectmen and the staff and members of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC). The question may have gone round and round for us, but it’s been a thruway for political leaders.

Of course, you may argue that these Oak Bluffs and MVC leaders have been hopelessly derelict in not recognizing until the last minute that this Roundabout has regional implications, and then plunging ahead with it anyway, even after they were brought up short by leaders in other Island towns who said, Hold up a minute. And if you did make this argument, you would be right.

But, as they say so often in the halls of government, about our wishes and dreams, so what.

And, finally, when all the questions embedded in the Roundabout issue are thrashed as well as you have thrashed them over the past decade, really there is no smoking gun. Safety will not be compromised, throughput will increase, the Island’s peculiar (I’m not going to write special) character will not be compromised, and we’ll learn to motor through it successfully. After all, if we survive and thrive in Five Corners, we can come to grips with the Roundabout.

What I’m worried over is your mental health, your tendency to swim out too far into the deep waters of obsession and away from the dull, but safe and warm comfort of beach sand. We need to begin thinking not of the Roundabout but of ourselves. We need to step back from obsession’s brink. We need to find some other pseudo-calamitous event — perhaps those emotionally high-fat, inspirational messages that have bloomed this spring, despite the lack of nurturing rain. And, if we must obsess, we must obsess over something new.

We need to take care of ourselves and let the Roundabout take care of itself. The psychologists I’ve consulted agree.