In the wake of the recent election for one Town Commission seat in Longboat Key, there has been a suggestion that citizens and politicians conduct themselves with a bit more peace, love and understanding — with civility. Another element that could be mixed in should be honesty.
Without as much forethought as I could have given it, I have ventured into a back-and-forth through the Town Commission mail with one neighbor who took the commissioners to task on an issue and then made what I believed was a meritless suggestion.
A few commissioners weighed in, the neighbor went further and I went further. Really, all quite humdrum and maybe a bit silly, but still it was people expressing their opinions and arguments.
This is all in the Town Commission e-mails, which are public records, but I wouldn’t urge anyone to spend time looking them over.
Where I have concerns are in two areas. First, the original letter writer, not content to let my words speak for themselves, inferred that my motivation was to ready my acceptability for public office. This has since been picked up and amplified by others who have chimed into the discussion.
That is not my motivation, nor has that been my motivation in any of the letters I have written in the past, in public testimony or in my service on the Longboat Key Public Interest Committee board. I want to nip all such chatter in the bud.
My motivation always has been to be interested in what goes on where I live; learn what I can about the important issues and express myself on what I see to be the key points; and, perhaps, influence others at least to consider my position.
This easy attribution of motivations goes hand-in-hand with a human tendency not to accept things on their surface. There is a regrettable recourse to see conspiracies where none exists, to believe in cabals where there are none and to believe there are dark purposes driving those with whom we simply disagree.
In the past election, the candidate who consistently advocated balanced renewal and improved tourism was painted as being the puppet of the chamber of commerce and maybe even in league with casino interests for darker future purposes. Those who supported the unsuccessful candidate were sometimes implied to be selfish potentates stuck in an anachronistic existence. None of this name-calling serves any purpose other than old-fashioned crass politics. It certainly does nothing to raise the level of discourse.
I am a believer in honesty in public matters, perhaps naively. Stretching the truth and distorting reality to make a point may rally a base, but it holds us back as a community. A little side story: 20 years ago in Maryland a neighbor ran afoul of the law in a money-laundering scheme. One of the local television stations breathlessly ran footage and said, “He plowed the proceeds into his Rockville mansion.” It was a tract development house.
Calling it a mansion didn’t make it so, no more than calling a relatively small series of rooms a convention center makes it so. We have plenty of issues facing us without painting things as what they are not, such as myself as a politician.
It is not civility to have to turn the other cheek to mischaracterizations and misrepresentations. It is not a contradiction of civility to argue a position, and it is not a contradiction of civility to present a factual argument. It is the tone, choice of words and volume level that make the difference.
I’ll close with a lighter non-sequitur: I am a dog lover, but to this day my dog has never voiced a desire to be on the beach.
Terry Gans is a resident of Longboat Key.
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