Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Rules of Engagement

Like many workplaces today, City Hall has a sign posted where you pay your bills. It says, in effect, that rude and abusive behaviour will not be tolerated. The main purpose is to provide staff with a first level of defence against that sort of behaviour, but underlying it is recognition that this sort of behaviour just isn't civilized, or productive.

Unfortunately, there are some people who don't think that the same rule should apply to their elected representatives. They seem to have the attitude that, because we've been elected, we should cheerfully put up with being insulted, called names, and having our ethics questioned, both publicly and privately. I was even booed once when I entered council chambers. And then, if you don't respond, they become even more abusive, because apparently being elected means that you owe them a response.

I'm more than willing to engage in respectful discussion. But I'm not willing to enter into discussion with anyone who calls me names, who suggests that I'm not being truthful, or who accuses me of voting for any reason other than my sincere belief that I'm making the best decision possible. To my mind, these individuals don't want discussion, they want to vent their anger in a not very productive way, and I don't see why I should subject myself to their unpleasantness.

Now, I will admit to getting angry and venting, but I do my best to keep it private, with my wife, family, or other close friends. I try to keep my cool in public, and to not respond in kind, because that sort of behaviour doesn't lead to solutions, it leads to problems. When people start calling names, the focus then becomes on the name-calling, not on the actual problem. And Prince Albert is a small town - you never know when you're going to run into a friend or relative of the person that you've insulted - they may not take too kindly to your insults either.

For those who choose to do the insulting publicly, they should remember that behaviour whenever they bemoan the lack of good candidates for any elected office - more than a few people have spoken to me about how they would never run for office, because they wouldn't want to take that sort of abuse.

I often hear talk about how the behaviour of politicians at the provincial or federal level needs to be more respectful and cooperative. I would enlarge the arena for that sort of improvement to include civic politics, and to include all those who take advantage of the opportunity they have to speak at council meetings to share their ideas and opinions - let's all try to remember the old adage about treating others as we like to be treated.

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." - Plato

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