Monday, August 10, 2015

On second thought(s)

Evagrius of Pontus, fol. 290r Codex Parisinus Graecus 923

It is not in our power to determine whether we are disturbed by these thoughts, but it is up to us to decide if they are to linger within us or not and whether or not they are to stir up our passions. - Evagrius of Pontus, The Praktikos

I'm sure we all have our favorite among the third and fourth century Desert Fathers (and Mothers) of early Christian history. For me, it's always been Evagrius of Pontus (345-399 CE), also known as Evagrius the Solitary, which seems a redundant appellation given he was a hermit. Despite his writings being declared anathema by the fifth, sixth, and seventh Ecumenical Councils, Evagrius' teachings regarding the Eight (Bad) Thoughts -  gluttony, greed, sloth, sorrow, lust, anger, vainglory, and pride - were the precursors of the Seven Deadly Sins fashioned two centuries later by Pope Gregory I.

Whether you regard Gregory's catalog of sins as grave threats to receiving divine grace or simply a bucket list, odds are you long ago got the idea. Now you know that that idea traces back to Evagrius. But it's not that idea that made me a fan of Evagrius. What I like about this guy is his thinking on second thoughts.

We have these Eight (Bad) Thoughts that come seemingly on their own, but for Evagrius any one of these thoughts opens the way for a second thought should we choose to think it. In fact choosing whether and what to think next is the crux of having the second thought. After Evagrius I have come to believe that maybe much of virtue rests upon having second thoughts.

Please forgive me as I move from a notional reference regarding virtue to an observation regarding the city council. I appreciate that placing these topics in close proximity may give some readers pause. Believe me I am myself caught somewhat unawares, but as Evagrius would remind us, some thoughts come unbidden as if borne by demons.*

Even so, it is not virtue so much that brings the city council to mind as it is this thing about second thoughts. According to recent reporting in a local news outlet, it appears the city council has had one. Not so many days ago citizen involvement in their own civic affairs was the object of alarm by some elected officials and city workers. However, that alarm may not linger much longer.

Reporting on a recent meeting of the city council where five development projects were acted upon, Andrew Setterholm writes, "the contrast between those with neighborhood support and those without it was clear."
Those projects with early neighborhood involvement moved smoothly through public hearings and evoked little or no disagreement between council members. One project that involved citizens later in the development process faced harsher comments and split council votes.
The council president is quoted concluding that "it is clearly in their [developers] best interest to engage neighborhoods early and often. It will save them time and money and a whole lot of heartache, it would seem."

It would also seem that the council is considering text amendments to city ordinances that "increase citizens' opportunities to participate in the development process." These include better notifications about public hearings on projects and incorporating neighborhood associations into the development process.

The council president offered this advice to developers: "I think the projects have indicated that those that engage the neighborhoods and reach, hopefully, a compromise have a much greater chance of successfully getting through the process."

"Reaching a compromise" sounds a lot like negotiations to me. "Negotiations" by citizen groups with developers was the very thing city staff decried only a few weeks ago as a threat to the decision-making powers of the council.

On second thought, rather than threaten the council's decision-making powers, it would seem citizen participation improves the decisions the council is empowered by citizens to make.


*Evagrius would probably leave off the "as if".

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