Friday, February 5, 2010

Voices for civility

Last week, Amador Ledger Dispatch Publisher Jack Mitchell published an opinion piece that was anything but civil. Mitchell fell back into an ugly, old habit I keep hoping he will outgrow: calling people names and demonizing individuals and groups with whom he disagrees.

In this week's paper, the defamed citizens -- and several others -- responded. But not in kind. They called Mitchell on his bad behavior. But they also called out for respectful, civil discourse.

One letter-writer even pointed out that Mitchell had engaged in exactly that on his front porch when she knocked on his door to ask him to sign the referendum petition challenging the Gold Rush Ranch approval.

Good people can disagree without being disagreeable, juvenile, disrespectful, and hateful. They can, in the words of the famed negotiating book Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, "Be hard on the problem and soft on the people."

That's important everywhere. In small communities like ours, it's critical. No matter what happens with an issue that causes us to disagree today, tomorrow there will still be neighbors to help, causes to support, and community needs to address. We must build and nurture the relationships that allow us to work together, not allow our differences to tear us apart.

I'm so proud of the good people in this county who realize that and put it into practice every day. They -- not the folks who resort to personal attack when they don't get their way -- are our true local leaders. And they are the ones who will help us find a path to a prosperous and sustainable future while preserving the small town and rural values we all hold dear.

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