"No peace, just understanding"
June 9, 2008 · Updated 6:44 PM
"Can a man who has spent his career in the world's hottest flashpoints bring peace among the often-contentious factions of Bainbridge Island?No, says Christopher Snow. Bainbridgers love their island too much for that.People here are passionately involved with the community, says Snow, a retired foreign-service officer who is chairing the Bainbridge Economic Vitality Conference. And people who are passionate about something tend to see things differently.The whole purpose of the conferences is to give participants a chance to air those differences. Elements on the island that need to have their views more adequately explained can use the conference to communicate, he said.Snow believes that government is just such an element.Government is not generally well thought of these days, he said. But often, I think government is simply caught in the middle, and that is true of the Bainbridge city government.Snow moved to Bainbridge Island in 1998 after a 35-year career with the United States Information Agency that saw him posted to such volatile areas as Pakistan, Iran, Israel, and cold-war Bulgaria and Belgium. Although the specifics varied, his mission was the same - to explain American people and policies to others.The notion that getting to know more about each other better makes us more acceptable is pretty much a myth, he said. Sometimes, the more you learn the more you realize how really important your difference are.While Snow's career experiences involved differences between Israelis and Palestinians, or Indians and Pakistanis, he sees some of the same dynamics involved on a local level.On an international scale, you see people saying the same things, and meaning something quite different. I see some of that going on here.The example he cites is the preservation of agricultural land. Everybody is for it, but we all have different things in mind, Snow said. Some people mean no development. Others would be happy with development if you keep the lot size to two and a half acres.Does that lack of agreement mean that nothing can be done? Not at all, Snow said.We can't agree, but we have to live together, he said. The key is to focus not on our disagreements, but to identify and isolate areas of agreement. Put the disagreements on hold. Lots of times, postponing difficult decisions lets the problem simply go away.The Utah-raised, Yale-educated Snow said that as retirement approached, he and wife Cameron realized that they had no home in the United States. He said that the northwest is a popular destination for similarly situated foreign-service professionals.Bainbridge Island appealed to me because there is a real sense of community spirit. This is a community that takes responsibility for identifying problems and taking the opportunity to solve them, Snow said, citing the library expansion and new swimming pool as recent examples.He got involved with the Bainbridge Economic Council through his wife.She is principally a visual artist who also writes, he said. She got to know Sally Robison, a Winslow writer who also does visual art, and they decided to collaborate on a children's book.Through Sally Robison, Snow met her husband Merrill Robison, who was heavily involved in the BEC, particularly between his stints as a Winslow city councilman and his current service as a Bainbridge Island councilman. Robison brought Snow into the BEC. Snow joined the board, and was given the task of organizing the Economic Vitality Conference.Snow welcomed the opportunity to participate in the BEC. It's a way to become involved in the community I've decided to make my home, he said. The investment of personal time and energy and thought is vital to the health of a community.The great thing about Bainbridge is that it is more inclusive than exclusive. If you are willing to make a personal contribution, doors open to you."