SEEMS TO ME... Civility

home [and]… Starbucks…beckoned to me. As the door closed behind me, I was taken aback to see Jake sitting at a table, newspapers covering its top, and a large cup of coffee sitting precariously at its edge. He looked up and our eyes met. I walked over and gave him an obligatory handshake. We exchanged small talk and he mentioned that the police chief should let people sleep in their auto- mobiles. I said it was good seeing him. I excused myself to purchase coffee and started to pay the cashier when Jake rushed over and said he wanted to buy the coffee. I protested; here was a homeless person buying me a cup of coffee. It didn’t feel right but I stepped aside and said, “Tank you, Jake.” When I turned around, he was gone. As I gazed out at the clear night sky, I remembered the second meaning of a gadfly: “A person who rouses you from complacency.” I knew I had been presented a pre- cious gift that evening.

Gadflies undoubtedly have many different motivations.

One theory is that there is a sense of personal importance and belonging that goes with their regular participation in public meetings. Another is that they truly believe there are wrongs that need to be righted and, of course, sometimes the gadflies are right.

Te bottom line is that gadflies are an intrinsic aspect of democracy, and there really is no “solution” to gadflies except to try to understand what motivates them and appreciate the underlying democratic principle they represent. Te worst strategy, of course, is to allow yourself to respond in kind to the type of angry, personal attacks gadflies are known to

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make. Many times we treat others badly not because we don’t understand how people should be treated but because we don’t really consider them people if they disagree with us Democracy relies on people being willing to engage in the

marketplace of ideas. But this can only happen if we can relearn how to listen to one another, work together, and use our words to persuade, rather than divide. Too many Americans refuse to entertain the possibility that an opponent might be a decent human being despite being wrong about an issue. So instead of conversations that might change minds, we reduce our debates to toxic confrontations. We have to do better. On a personal level we can each do things to improve civil-

ity, such as:

• Make an effort to be civil when treated uncivilly; • Encourage family, friends and coworkers to be civil; • Vote for political leaders who behave in a civil way; • Commit to one act of civility (say or do something nice) regularly; and

• Speak up against or do something about incivility.

A great deal more can be said on this important subject of civility in government, and it would be naïve to suggest that following the strategies outlined would guarantee that others will follow your example. But we must lead. Regrettably, the necessity or the sine qua non of ethical behavior is that it involves risks and possible personal costs. But the potential reward for such risks is more respect for your leadership and a greater sense of public confidence in government.

We want to hear from YOU Tell us your good news. Be sure to let us know if

an aspect of county government “made news” re- cently in your county. Or if your county officials or staff get an award, appointment or pat on the back. We want the whole state to know about your suc- cesses and accomplishments.

Contact Communications Director Christy L. Smith at


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