Motives are like belly buttons, everybody has one. This may seem like a cynical view of the world, but I think it is a practical way to view complex problems with many stakeholders.
Recently, land managers released a Resource Management Plan for Wyoming‘s Red Desert, an area that means a lot to many different people for many different reasons. I have seen scathing opinion pieces written in critique of every option within the plan. Some people see opportunity stripped away for their businesses. Some people see access for their recreational use restricted or removed altogether. And still others fear conservation cannot come soon enough for the land and animals who inhabit it.
We live in a capitalistic society. The stated motive of capitalism is the creation of jobs and money. It doesn’t really matter if you agree or disagree with capitalism, it is our current economic structure. Individuals and businesses who have leases on the Red Desert to support their business have been acting in line with this motive.
We also live in a country with a long history of conservation to protect certain lands and wildlife habitat. It doesn’t really matter if you agree or disagree with conservation, it is a tool of land management in this country. People who want to see major reductions in human impacts to the Red Desert are acting in line with this motive.
And finally, the very nature of public lands is that they are accessible to the public. And each recreational user group would like to write the parameters of what the access looks like. People who are calling for their preferred form of access are acting in line with this motive.
But a room full of people fighting over capitalism vs. conservation vs. access is not likely to get anywhere productive. Unfortunately, public comment often looks like disagreeing by calling others selfish, stupid, and misinformed. If you decide to keep reading this column, my ask is that for the next few minutes you hold space to understand an opinion or value that you don’t hold. Here are a couple metaphors to put those motives in perspective.
Imagine you are leasing a car that you use to get your family to school, work, the grocery store, and even vacation. Then one day the dealership sends you a letter saying they have reviewed their leasing structure and decided it is no longer possible for you to lease this car. Even though you have had a perfect lease record for decades, your lease will not be renewed at the end of this year. And unfortunately, there will not be any other cars to lease or buy either.
Even though you don’t own this car, it feels like your car. You drive it every day. You fix it when something is broken. Your kids have laughed, cried, and made important memories traveling together in this car. It feels like there must be some ulterior motive of the dealership if they want to ruin your life by taking away your car and leaving you no other options for transportation. That probably feels really bad to you.
Next, I want you to imagine being a timeshare owner within a group of friends. It is a beautiful beach house unit and you and 10 friends pool your money to buy it. After a few years of blissful vacation use, one of the ten owners suggests setting up an ice cream shop on the front porch and allowing walk up customers anytime a family staying there wants to operate it. The person with the idea says they will do all the work to make it happen, and yes, and when it comes time to close the ice cream shop, they will return the porch to its original state.
The ice cream shop gets built and goes into play that summer. Your first trip to the beach house with the new ice cream shop just doesn’t feel the same. Even though you are not operating the ice cream shop, it feels like it has changed your experience of the house. It feels like the owners in support of the ice cream shop had some ulterior motive to ruin your family vacation house. This probably feels really bad to you.
Let’s get back to the Red Desert Resource Management Plan. This is a complex issue with many stakeholders at the table, each who has a lot to lose or gain. The meetings for public comment will likely bring out the masses. There is a 0% chance that each side will get everything they want and nothing they don’t want.
Is the person evil who followed all the requirements of their car lease, but still doesn’t get access to another car? I don’t think so. Is the person evil who didn’t want their timeshare experience changed by an ice cream shop? I don’t think so either. They are both just behaving according to their own motives.
No one is a bad person for wanting the solution that best serves their motives. And the farther away we get from two people standing over a fence post and talking about their motives and uses, the more there is at stake for no one getting anything close to what they want.
Mandy Fabel resides in Lander, WY with her husband and young son. They love spending time rock climbing, snowmobiling, and mountain biking. Mandy currently serves as the executive director of Leadership Wyoming and the co-founder of the YouTube channel Granola & Gasoline.