By Tara Bitzan, executive director, Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce

Sometimes I feel as if Alexandria, MN has a protective bubble around it, keeping it safe from some of the ugly things happening in other communities around the state. Most recently those things include COVID hospitalizations and deaths, business closings, rioting and destruction, and significant increases in crime and mental health issues.

I find myself almost apologetic when speaking with people in other communities when I report that things are “OK” in Alexandria. Things definitely aren’t awesome, but they aren’t terrible. We are doing “OK” and in times like this, that is nothing to hang our heads about.

At the time of writing this, we have not had any COVID deaths in our community. Our local health care professionals have done a remarkable job of planning, preparing and keeping order during a time of many unknowns. That makes me feel safe.

A restaurant closed, which was a loss for our community, but many other local businesses that were fearful a couple months ago that they wouldn’t survive this are now reporting good numbers – not great, but survivable. It was incredible to watch local residents and other businesses rally around those that were struggling. That makes me proud.

We had a couple peaceful protests/rallies in response to racial injustice, which were conducted in an orderly, respectful manner, without violence or destruction. Conversations were started, and our community will only become better if those conversations continue. That gives me hope.

The past few months have been challenging in many ways. Local businesses and organizations have had to reinvent their business model to stay profitable yet safe. Because one of the Chamber’s top priorities is to help our members be successful, last week we sent an email alerting them to the fact that the Chamber has been receiving calls from individuals regarding the lack of mask wearing in our community. We’ve been told people don’t feel comfortable shopping locally because of the lack of masks being worn or lack of safety protocols.

While the email was informational only, a few read it as a statement that the Chamber is promoting mask mandates and felt their rights were being violated. The Chamber is not taking a stance on the mask mandate issue. We are simply doing our best to support the success of our local business community by sharing what consumers are telling us. If we get a call from someone with complaints about a business’ customer service, cleanliness, product, facility, etc., we connect with that business and have a conversation. Again, we want our members to be successful, so we do everything we can to help solve those issues.

We viewed these complaints in the same way, and shared the feedback simply so local businesses could consider that information as they move forward with newly established protocols.

The Chamber is in the business of supporting business and commerce. We are not medical professionals or scientists, we are not government.

I defer back to the guest editorial that appeared in the January 15 Echo Press that stated “Our community is full of passionate people, and that is why we are so successful! Passion builds momentum, gains followers and is a catalyst for making things happen. But there is a fine line between passion and aggression. Much too often that line is crossed, and that is a detriment to our entire community.”

That editorial addressed the “mean-spirited words that get carelessly thrown around when there is debate of any kind within the community,” including, “aggressive, hurtful or hateful social media posts, the spreading of incorrect information to others, and worst of all, personal attacks.”

These are scary, challenging times for everyone in the world. While there is strength in numbers and comfort in knowing everyone is in this together, it’s also easy during times like this to choose sides and to let your passion flame so strongly that you fail to listen to the other side or worse, to start judging those who don’t agree with you.

Don’t let your passion turn to aggression. Have conversations, share open dialogue, listen, take a stand if you wish and support it with “me/I” instead of “you” statements, don’t judge others and condemn them for believing differently.

It’s OK to disagree, but it’s never OK to be disrespectful or unkind.

Tara Bitzan is executive director of the Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. In the Know is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.