Agreeing to disagree requires respect
July 22, 2013
Agree or disagree with their determination this week to forge ahead with an elephant ride exhibit, but one decision by the Nevada County Fair board members deserves praise from both sides of this controversial community issue.
Following the first of two meetings on the topic, which elicited highly emotional feedback from the audience but no discussion from the fair board, we encouraged board members in this column space to be responsive to those they represent on why members decided to move forward in contracting with Have Trunk Will Travel, the organization targeted by many of those opposing the elephant rides. Board President Tom Browning and Nevada County Fair CEO Sandy Woods took action by writing an open letter to the community, published by The Union and elsewhere, to shed some light on the rationale behind the board’s decision.
But members then took one step further in their role of responsibly representing the community they serve by bringing the issue back before the board this week.
That decision, to provide more transparency to the public on their deliberations, was the right one to make.
Knowing the mounting opposition and the level of vitriol they’ve faced on the topic, the decision by board members to revisit the topic before another emotional audience was likely not easy to make. Nearly every board member spoke directly to the public Tuesday night on his or her individual decision, a gesture too often rarely seen from such governing boards. Woods said fair board members returned the issue to the agenda for that exact reason — to speak to the community on the rationale of what they deemed to be “informed decisions.”
“Our board members have put a lot of research into the issue,” Woods said Friday. “They have really studied the issue in detail. And I really respect them for that.”
Respect is too often an afterthought in the heat of a controversial topic, yet it is certainly deserved by those who volunteer to serve on such boards in our community. The amount of time required to read the vast amount of information prepared in packets prior to meetings in order to make informed decisions is considerable. Yet those who serve make it a priority to set aside that time in the midst of their “day jobs” and personal lives. And knowing the decisions they make are not always going to be popular — especially in tough economic times — and will likely be criticized by some faction of the community, there are not often long lines of people signing up to serve us in such roles.
Criticism, of course, is to be expected. But those serving on our community’s boards should also be able to expect it to be delivered with a level of respect. We thank those who spoke to the need of civility in public discourse when Tuesday’s meeting took a turn in the opposite direction. Those offering their opinions via letters to the editor, directly to board members or even to the organization operating the exhibit should heed that advice. The success sought in sharing an opinion often depends as much on the tone in which it is delivered as the actual point of the message itself.
For example, how effective could one expect the following statement to be in persuading someone to see your viewpoint?
“I hope you die a slow, painful, agonizing death, because that (is) what you deserve.”
Agree or disagree over the elephant exhibit, but no one deserves to receive that kind of message, and such vitriol has no place in a productive discussion on local issues — no matter how controversial — in our community.
Certainly we can agree we all deserve better than that.
The Our View column represents the views of The Union editorial board, which is comprised of members of The Union staff and informed members of the community.