Sitting in the audience, waiting to be called on to present a book talk at a gathering of the Readfield Historical Society, I noticed, on a wall poster upstairs at Giles Hall, a wonderful list of “Standards of conduct for public meetings.”
I think you will agree that these are very appropriate for all of us, particularly our elected officials in Augusta and Washington, D.C. Here they are:
• Be courteous, patient and civil.
• Keep emotions in check.
• Respect other’s points of view.
• Assume opponents have positive intentions.
• Don’t take things personally.
• Identify problems, propose solutions.
• Understand before disagreeing.
• Disagree without being disagreeable.
At the bottom of the list was this:
• Remember we are all neighbors and community members.
Boy, don’t we wish this was posted on the door of every capitol building, and that those who represent us there would abide by these principles.
I’ve been a political activist since I was a teenager, and I’ve never been so discouraged about the state of politics and leadership in this state and country. Lately I’ve been talking to legislators about the “good old days” when legislators usually stayed overnight in Augusta, had dinner together, got to know each other, and became friends.
That didn’t mean they didn’t disagree, sometimes strongly, but it helped them to disagree without being disagreeable. And to work together to solve our problems and build a better future for all of us. Today, this is nearly impossible.
Term limits have been disastrous, leaving few experienced legislators to lead committees and very little historical knowledge of the issues, and assuring that legislators don’t get to know each other or become friends. There’s far more anger and partisanship in Augusta these days. And don’t even get me started on the mess in Washington.
When I went to Washington in 1974 with newly elected Congressman David Emery, we were two 26-year-olds who could have easily been lost in the Capitol, unable to achieve anything for our state.
But despite the fact that Dave was a Republican, Democratic Sen. Edmund Muskie, a highly respected and productive member of Congress, did everything he could to help Dave. I can tell you it was always a thrill to sit in on one of Muskie’s meetings in his private Senate office.
Reading the news these days, it seems that every single one of the principles listed above are violated, every single day, by far too many of our leaders. And if truth must be told, by too many of us as well.
From Facebook and Twitter posts to angry shouting at political events to appallingly bad behavior in public, we have apparently forgotten how to behave, and especially, how to be effective.
At church the day after my book talk in Readfield, Rev. Myung Eun Park, in the call that began our service, read: “Jesus said, ‘You have heard that it was said love your neighbors and hate your enemies. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’ Jesus is asking us to reach out to the stranger — those we have been taught are our enemy, maybe because their language and culture are different from ours, maybe because they are younger or older, come from a different part of the world, dress differently, or have a different political affiliation. Jesus is trying to reconcile all people, making enemies into neighbors and strangers into friends.”
I invite you to do this, today, every day, in your neighborhood, at your work place, wherever you encounter another human being. And to cut out this column and hand it or mail it (or email it) to someone you think should be guided by these standards of conduct.
And, please, don’t everyone mail it to President Trump. There are lots of others who need to receive this message too.