Civility, Patience, Diligence, and Scrutiny - Now More Than Ever
Some thoughts on voting
As we head into this election season, our valley is facing some formidable challenges. Managing the watershed, preparing for the next wildland fire, the struggle for housing, striving for balance and diversity in our economy, declining public school enrollment, and sustaining our natural environment are just a few of the issues many of us are thinking about and working on. The general feeling seems to be, and with justification, that the decisions we make now will largely set the direction for the next decades and perhaps further. This dynamic is always true, but seems to be especially vivid now.
With this critical moment in mind, I want to propose the following strategy as we listen to our candidates for public office, work to understand the proposed measures, read the news, participate on social media, and politically engage with our neighbors, friends, and colleagues:
1. Civility - Act as if we are all on the same team. In fact, we are on the same team as co-residents of our valley. We basically want the same sorts of things, such as community flourishing, but may disagree on how to achieve these ends. Listen carefully, and listen more than speak. Believe that the person you are talking with has a general good will, and that a worthy goal is to try to understand each other, even if your minds do not change. Ask questions respectfully, and when others are offering facts, ask to be pointed to the sources of those facts so you can also investigate. Overall, have your language be open, your mind not immovably set, and your demeanor calm and inquisitive.
2. Patience - Democracy and liberal society are slow moving by design, requiring enormous energy and consensus to make big changes. Allow for this time, and come to count on it. Does this mean that efficiency can’t be improved? Of course not. Work to understand why things take longer to change than we might like by asking our representatives and city and county employees about the processes they employ to make the best decisions they believe they can. Then evaluate from a place of knowledge. Further, patience with each other in our conversations can go a long way toward building camaraderie and momentum.
3. Diligence - It is more common than not to read a social media post where someone posits a seeming fact (e.g. can you believe they voted on “x”, or against “y”), but the account is truncated, narrow, and potentially misleading. In conversations too, how often is hearsay taken for veracity? Do you own homework. To understand the current state of water, listen to the Casitas or OBGMA Board meetings or check out their website reports. To understand an Ojai City Council decision, attend the meeting or watch it online, or reach out to the representatives or staff people directly. This takes time, energy, and attention, and it is easier just to be upset. Instead, suspend judgment until you feel you have some grounding and distinction in your views, and then you will become a beneficial force to inform and potentially persuade. Tether your facts to their sources whenever possible, and be ready to cite those sources to others.
4. Scrutiny - Listen to our candidates for public office carefully when they speak. Separate concrete proposals from emotional appeals. Work to parse confounded statements and keep the conversations steady, focused, and taking as long as they need to take. At the upcoming September 28 Ojai City Council Candidate Forum, taking place at Oak Grove School, don’t come ready to cheer or boo. Come ready to listen like a hiring manager to an eager applicant. This holds true for any opportunity to engage with all of our candidates for public office. Be ready to ask tough questions and respectfully press when the answers are vague. Be keen-eyed and open-eared, looking and listening for clarity, consistency, and details.
This is our chance to set a valley trajectory and we don’t want to miss the opportunity because of laziness, tribalism, rigidity, or ignorance. The values of civil discourse and sustained, honest inquiry cannot be overstated. We would not have our country without these virtues. All of us have a lot at stake here, and the next steps are not as obvious are we might like, so we are going to have to work together. Now more than ever.