Once in a great while, most people in Alameda come together in a collective notion that all is right with the world and we are going in the right direction. The application for consideration of Alameda Point for the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab appears to be one of the things we have been able to coalesce around.
But, more often than not, we group ourselves into factions: Is the City going down the tubes financially, or not? Is all development bad, or is some o.k.? Do we want to allow low or moderate income housing or should we always go for high end homes? Are big box stores good for our tax base or will they drive out our local merchants? Should we encourage use of public transit or are we so wedded to our cars such expenditures are wasteful? Does Measure A protect us from undesirables or is it preventing us from having flexibility in land use decisions?
Public debate on these questions is both useful and necessary. Unfortunately, it is often contentious and filled with rancor, half-truths, untruths, and even slander. Our decision to characterize folks on the opposite side of the issues from us as “bad people” distracts from a fair exposition of factual information on which we should be making decisions. It is not always easy to come to consensus on contentious issues, but we need to exercise much more personal discipline to stick to the facts, avoid hyperbole and slander, and allow for the “other voices” to be heard.
I once read an interesting article about “fighting fair” – it had to do with married couples, but the principles can easily be applied to civic engagement. Stick to the facts and to the point was the main advice. Don’t dredge up old hurts; they add nothing to the resolution of the conflict. Don’t throw in personal insults about character, traits or behaviors that have nothing to do with the issue at hand. Those tactics are easy, and often get the opponent to throw in the towel, but they never lead to a mutually satisfactory result and peace.
As a community, I believe we can do better. I believe we can get farther with disciplining ourselves to be more honest, straightforward and transparent in making our case when we differ. When I say “we” I mean “me”, as well as others. I wish there were some way to get all those who are currently participating in civic engagement to take a pledge to try to do better – fight fairer – be more considerate.
We have a lot of hard issues to resolve – some of them critical to the well-being of our City for many years to come. Can we take the pledge to work together better for the good of our community and maybe “Get Some Satisfaction”?
Kate Quick is a fixture in the League of Women Voters both locally and statewide. Her enthusiasm for local service has kept her busy and her energy for tackling new projects in unparalleled.