Shaking hands

One way we teach our young people good sportsmanship is to have members of both teams shake hands after an athletic contest. Win or lose, athletes are expected to take a moment to acknowledge their opponents’ time, effort and skill.

For the losing team, the time after a game, particularly if there is a long bus ride home, is often sad and quiet. This simple demonstration of compassion, understanding and respect makes the loss easier to take. Both teams play to win, but the most important thing is for players to know that winning isn’t everything. Celebrate, certainly, but no one should gloat.

During the run-up to town meetings and local elections on Mount Desert Island this year, feelings ran high on both sides of issues, like resolutions endorsing sanctuary communities and cruise ship zoning changes. The latter debate earned Bar Harbor a mention in the Portland Press Herald for a “nasty campaign.” The name-calling in public hearings and on Facebook would have earned an “unsportsmanlike conduct” penalty on any playing field.

Because there are winners and losers in almost every such debate, voters will do well to take a cue from our young athletes and make a point of acknowledging and showing appreciation for neighbors who came down on the other side of the issue.

“It’s important to remember that alliances between community members fluctuate and change over time,” one Bar Harbor resident said in March at the first civility forum, one of a series of public meetings aimed at returning civility to public discourse in Bar Harbor. If a vote is close, nearly half the population will be disappointed about the outcome.

In cases of light opposition, it’s easy for those in the majority to forget that not everyone shares their view.

Our revered quality of life depends on continuing to be good neighbors even when we oppose the positions reflected on our neighbors’ lawn signs.

Adults looking to follow a good example need look no further than the Mount Desert Island High School football team, honored earlier this year with the regional sportsmanship award in the same season they clinched the Northern Maine Championship. “Appropriate and positive communication” with coaches and others and “treating officials with respect” are among the criteria for the award.

The MDI High state champion boys’ basketball team, also, were reminded at every turn that “playing for each other” will get them much farther than narrow selfishness ever could.

“If we play for the guy on the left and right and everyone in that locker room,” basketball Coach Justin Norwood said after the state championship game, “we would make an entire island very happy.”

In the end, everyone participating in local political debates desires to make our communities better places in which to live. While we may not always agree on the best way to get there, we all share that fundamental goal.

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