Sweeping with a Light Heart

Community-Dialogueby Tia Will

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 ?

Three reasons.

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.

About The Author

Tia is a graduate of UCDMC and long time resident of Davis who raised her two now adult children here. She is a local obstetrician gynecologist with special interests in preventive medicine and public health and safety. All articles and posts written by Tia are reflective only of her own opinions and are in no way a reflection of the opinions of her partners or her employer.

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18 Comments

  1. SODA

    Hi Tia; I agree (hopefully with grace)!

    It is easy to get caught up in the emotions and forget the ‘forest for the trees’. It is also easier I think to express outrage and anger on the DV because it is a flat dimension as all writing is, especially since many of us choose to remain anonymous. However, that said, I know I am much more informed about Davis’ issues and the outrage expressed by the DV readers because I read the DV.

    I was at a candidate coffee the other night and realized how much more informed our household was than the other participants….probably more angry also!

    1. Tia Will

      Hi Soda,

      I certainly agree that I have learned much, much more about my community since starting to read and post on the Vanguard. I have learned even more, and had to stretch myself a bit since serving on the Editorial Board. I see the Vanguard as a major source of information and interaction in our community. The results of the recent survey regarding citizens’ awareness of the fiscal issues facing the city would tend to support this impression.

      My hat is off to David for persisting in this endeavor through many, many challenges.

  2. Frankly

    Thanks Tia. Good food for thought. As I might have mentioned, my family debated around the dinner table with gusto and then always hugged hello and goodbye. All people are different. We are both blessed and cursed with tendencies. But we also should be forever learning and developing until the day we pass on to eventual by dead stuff that feeds the plants that drop their dead stuff on patios. I know I can learn how to better tone my communications to prevent a reader/listener from stirring unwanted emotions in the listener/reader.

    But I do get irritated when I sense that the reader/listener is not really understanding or listening. When I take the time to write something I expect at least some acknowledgement of a point. I am in it for the ideas but there are many that build a wall of protection of an identity related to their ideas… and once that happens they become quite stubborn and resistant to challenges to those idea. And from my perspective there is danger in the identity-protecting lack of self-awareness that can cause bad ideas to be advanced. WE have certainly advanced a lot of bad ideas in this city.

    You can call me any name you want to and it does not bother me. It is all about the ideas.

    But, with respect to your points about using a lighter touch, I agree and see it as my personal learning challenge.

    However, there is a corresponding and related need for people to dig deeply and understand where their ideas and opinions resonate from, and then shed the identity drivers… because they really do prevent listening.

    I think most intelligent people on this blog want 98% of the same things in life. We just have a different priority and a different opinion for how we achieve these things. But we should be open to changing our priorities and opinions. Or else we should at least acknowledge that we are not open and hence are not really useful in a debate of options.

    Most of us have a patio… but I bet we all approach how we clean our patio differently. I wish we would all be open to learning how others clean their patio without being so damn stubborn and so damn sensitive about it.

  3. Tia Will

    Thanks Frankly. As usual, we agree on some points, and disagree on others.

    One thing that you said really made me curious.

    What are the 98% of things that you think that we want in life ? No, not all of course, but a sampling.

    I ask because other than health, love, and a sense of worth, I doubt that we really are in agreement about much else of what we want in life.

    1. Frankly

      Safety, health, love, sense of worth, sense of accomplishment, self-confidence, ability to provide for self and family, meaningful work, free time, happiness, fun, friends, growth and development, progress, peace, relevancy.

      We want to have these things and we want others to have them too.

      1. hpierce

        I do not disagree with your list… however I feel I should point out that some adjectives you frequently use for those who disagree, or have different ‘values’ than you, do not support “sense of worth”, “self-confidence”, and sometimes, “relevancy”. You’re good… you ‘pushed my buttons’ the other day, but I don’t have as thick of a skin as I probably should… I’ll see if I can get a shot to create a thicker epidermis. Peace.

        1. Frankly

          hpierce – From your posting I know you are a good person and have a good mind. I don’t have any personal animus toward you (or Tia) for anything either of you post. Sorry I pushed your buttons. I seem to have quite the ability to do that. Ask Don Shor!

          I need to work on my tone if it conveys these things… because it is not my intent. I am just debating ideas. I supposed I do get irritated at times.

          Getting back to my list and the point I wanted to make. I think most reasonable people want the same things and would like other people to have them too. I think the debate is all about how do we get there.

          1. hpierce

            I agree. And most of the time, I try to post regarding errors of fact, and really do not have an “agenda”, but, as I said, I have a thin skin on some issues, and can react strongly. I am much like you in the irritation dept. Am trying to let myself write what I’m thinking/feeling, then wait a few hours to hit the “send” button. I’m a work in progress… hope to keep working and progressing (but no, I’m not a ‘progressive’, nor am I a ‘conservative, nor liberal). My life experience has had me doing crime scene measurements with the dried blood on the ground… with a supervising police officer who obviously had a 2-3 martini lunch. To me, life, and how we deal with it is nuanced. With very few exceptions, I live in a life of ‘gray’… there is little in my life that is black or white.

            Thank you, Tia… to all, paix, shalom, salaam, peace.

  4. Tia Will

    I also am in agreement with your list. I also would add contribution to something greater than oneself, or maybe you would have included that in the concept of relevancy.

    1. Frankly

      You know, I think that is a unique thing and one that is reserved for the most evolved humans. From a hierarchy of needs perspective, I think this is the top self-actualization need. And some people will define that as contributing things greater than oneself. Quite frankly I would be happy if everyone just contributed to their own personal full potential.

      But there is a saying “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. I have worked on projects that today looking back I cannot even fathom how we accomplished what we did. What was this? It was a team of people all contributing their full potential.

  5. Tia Will

    Frankly

    “Quite frankly I would be happy if everyone just contributed to their own personal full potential.”
    “It was a team of people all contributing their full potential.”

    To me, these two perceptions combined are the epitome of achieving “full potential”.

    I smiled when I read this. I felt like, perhaps for the first time, you and I were in complete agreement.

        1. Frankly

          Believe it or not, at one time I was a certified mediator (I know… how can that be?).

          The basic concept in this article is the core of the practice of active listening, paraphrasing and then categorically responding… and then repeating. Until eventually a list of points in agreement and disagreement is resolved. Then the art of compromise, and/or the art of agreeing to disagree is put into practice.

          But this is a tedious process when passions run high. Emotions make us interesting, but they also cause great pains to our ability to communicate and collaborate.

          It is not emotions per se… it is blind emotions. It is when a person clutches to strongly held beliefs without sufficient rational basis.

          Dr. Phil was discovered by Oprah Winfery as a unique psychologist and therapist. The standard approach by this profession has always been to facilitate self-discovery that leads to resolution. Dr. Phil took the more direct approach… actually telling his patients what he thought in a way that shocked them. The approach is a sort of “wake up” alarm… breaking the patterns of thought and behavior that are destructive so that new more beneficial patterns can develop.

          I think most intelligent people like to think that they know what they think they know. We develop personal beliefs based on past experiences and what we learn… and what gets validated by the people we surround our self with. When these strongly-held beliefs get challenged, it hits us at our core. It feels terrible… like a personal attack. We fight back with passion… and sometimes heated emotions.

          But what if we are wrong? What if our strongly held beliefs are damaging to us and others? Can we afford the tedious mediated approach that demands our we do not get out ego bruised?

          I think the optimized approach is somewhere in the middle… with debaters on both sides of a debate of strongly held beliefs to use the tools of mediation to soften the tone so that it feels less like an attack. But also to grow some thicker skin and recognize that challenges to strongly-held beliefs are likely to cause hurt feelings. Because some issues are urgent and demand a bit of shock therapy. We simply cannot afford the time it takes to facilitate so much self-discovery.

          And this is my strongly held belief… and I need to grow thicker skin for accepting challenges to it. When you respond in challenge, please consider that it might inflame my passions.

  6. Matthew

    Tia,

    I really enjoyed this piece. As someone who as recently spent a lot of time getting medical help for a chronic condition, and whose parents routinely struggle in this way, I appreciate your message. Treating people with respect truly makes all the difference.

    My name is Matthew, and I would like to speak to you about a public health related campaign I am a part of, affiliated with the Woodland Bike Campaign. I have been hoping to reach you as I was referred to you by Maria of the WBC. Could you please call or email me? mattdpalm@gmail.com or 858-472-5439.

    I want to end by saying your point about disagreeing with grace is very important. Especially in academia (the ecology I mostly inhabit), there could be much lower levels of depression among students and faculty if people learned this skill.

    Thanks for the post.

    Matthew

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