Letters to the Editor

As We See It: Civil discourse valuable

When our gang of five gathers, we have spirited discussions, we often agree to disagree and then we move on to discuss topics such as life after 60, aging parents, long-term marriages and, of course, grandchildren.

We imagine that many would face that same personal dilemma — how to agree to disagree in such a way as to maintain communication, self-respect and affection. We may not have choices about who we work next to or who our family members are, but should we avoid certain red flag subjects or the stifling of our own opinions to keep the peace? Of course not. We can work to improve our listening skills and our receptivity to other points of view while stating our own with clarity and without ill feeling.

Our original charge to ourselves when we began this column almost four years ago was to write about issues in such a way as to promote civility and constructive exchange. Unfortunately, the lack of these important attributes is most often seen today in the public arena.

Locally, we are impressed with the courtesy and respect that our elected officials show each other and the public, often in the face of inaccurate, suspicious or hostile accusations from constituents. Sometimes it seems that the public commenters are waiting to pounce and then insult and belittle.

Unlike in our private lives, elected officials do not have the luxury of avoiding uncomfortable or controversial topics. It is their job to make decisions. We elect them to meet together and decide about our taxes, our safety, our way of life. In so many ways their discussions and votes affect us all directly. Good decisions are difficult when the elected officials are feeling under attack. Still, it is their job to make the right decision, not the most popular decision.

Likewise, it seems that as those we elect move away to Sacramento or Washington D.C., the freer they feel to wage attack politics in order to make a point.

Is it too much to expect that our representatives conduct themselves in a way that assures us that they are speaking and voting with our needs foremost rather than a knee-jerk adoption of a party line or in accordance with some lobbyist’s desire? How can we be assured that it is not just the participants in public debate yelling the loudest who end up being the most persuasive because of the volume and intensity of their comments, rather than the content?

Recently, local columnist Bill Morem wrote in praise of the decision by the Cuesta College trustees to name retired educator Gil Stork as interim president of Cuesta (“Stork brings bonus to Cuesta,” Dec. 17). Stork is quoted as stating, “An important piece of my sanity is not forgetting whom we serve — the students ... I believe we can agree to disagree but not be disagreeable.”

As we move along in this new year, our wish is that we take Stork’s words to heart: that the skills we use to ensure civil, constructive and effective communication will be more evident, that we will give to each other the benefit of assuming that each is acting in good faith and to renew our hope that the next year will be better than the last.

Editor’s note:

This is another column written by five local women with extensive ties to the county. Their intent is to “stimulate intelligent thought and debate on important issues” in our county, all the while “promoting civility and constructive exchange.”

“As We See It” will appear periodically on this page.