This is a lovely Easter Sunday. I am blessed with enough resources to have just installed a new front patio and water conserving landscaping. I decided that I was going to clean off a light covering of leaves, twigs, wood chips and small branches and enjoy my new little retreat.
I took my broom and dustpan and meticulously cleared the vegetation into a small pile ready to be gathered into the dustpan. In the less than 5 seconds it took me to get the dustpan, a small, very pleasant little shift in the breeze re scattered my pile across most of the patio. I could have been upset, irritated, annoyed or frustrated and on some other day, I might have been.
Today, I recognized this for what it was. An event which was not in any way targeted at me and indeed had some positive as well as some negative effects. I enjoyed the feeling of the breeze on my skin even as I sighed and re started the clean up project.
I am now sitting outside on my less than pristine patio enjoying the breeze.
So why I am I writing about this completely banal event for consideration for a Vanguard article ? My point is that while we all know that most of the opinions expressed here are just that, personal opinions, it is very easy to lose perspective and to accuse and counter accuse others of being “evil” or some milder variant thereof instead of recognizing that they are merely expressing their point of view.
This can lead to some very nasty exchanges even to the degree where some very thoughtful people opt out of participating. This is certainly their right to do so. However, I believe that a richer conversation ensues when there are a greater number of participants.
There are two related but distinct points I would like to make with regard to how we view the Vanguard as a forum for public conversation.
First I am going to make an argument for the benefits of civility partially cribbed from an article on encouraging desirable behavior in our children, partially from lessons learned in raising my own children, and partially from 30 years dealing with patients one on one in the office.
1. Show respect.
The referenced article from that esteemed journal, Better Homes and Gardens, points out that children are more likely to follow what we do than what we say. I suspect that this is also true of adults who are more likely to respond in a calm, thoughtful, non adversarial tone if that is how they are addressed.
An entire body of literature supports better health outcomes when doctors respect and take into account the patient’s point of view without being dismissive of their ideas.
2. Disagree with grace
One does not have to agree with, or even respect the ideas being put forth. But it is singularly unhelpful to use any kind of denigration to express even the most blatant disagreement. One can show respect for the individual without implying agreement with their point of view. One can disapprove of tactics without implying that another poster or author is stupid, mean spirited, devious or outright lying.
3. Enquire about their motives/actions.
By making an inquiry rather than an accusation, one might discover some surprising points of view. I actually had virtually this same interaction with my daughter during her teen years. When I asked her why she had talked back to me on one occasion, just as the author of the article wrote, she responded quite honestly,
“I was just trying to get my way”. This certainly opened the door to a conversation about potentially more productive strategies to achieve her goals than to deliberately antagonize me.
I cannot help but wonder how much time, effort, money , suspicions and ill will could have been saved had the original disputants in the Choate/Crawford/Peterson imbroglio followed the principles above.
My second point involves priorities and appreciation.
The reason that we have large amounts of “green waste” to dispose of is because we live in a virtual garden with lots of lovely vegetation providing us with shade, bird and butterfly habitat and natural beauty as we move around our little city. The reason that there is controversy over how to handle this particular waste is a richness rather than homogeneity of views regarding the best way to get around town with some interests of course not meshing perfectly.
The same reasoning can be applied to any number of past, present and future controversies. The reason that we are even aware of these conflicts is that we have an engaged citizenry, groups who care enough about a variety of issues to provide freely of their time and expertise, individuals who volunteer for task forces and commissions and a large number of qualified candidates representing many different points of view for both school board and city council. In the midst of a wealth of resources, surely we can continue to discuss issues calmly and rationally with mutual respect and caring.
Sometimes in the posts on the Vanguard, and certainly in tabling at the Farmer’s Market, I have encountered a lot of anger. Some are angry about the seeming lack of progress with what an individual may see as an intractable problem whether that is the city finances, or the 5th Street project, or the water project, or the homeless population. I feel from living in Davis for over 24 years that we have the interest, will and expertise to address all of these issues. What we need is to consistently resist the urge to give in to our fear and anger which invariably shut down our reasoning abilities. Anger and invective are not our allies in making positive change. Respect, grace, and understanding are.
I believe that the Vanguard has made a lot of progress in the last several years in the quality of both the reporting and the commenting. So why bring this up now ?
1. We are approaching the upcoming elections and I am hoping that we will be able to maintain the same degree of respectful communication that has prevailed for the most part to date unlike during some previous election cycles.
2. The Vanguard editorial board has been working upon developing a set of recommended principles for those who post here just as we did previously for the Vanguard itself, but does not have them ready yet.
3. It is a beautiful day, with a light breeze, and I thought Easter an appropriate time to express my appreciation and hopes for my Vanguard community as well as the Davis community as a whole.