There are good ways to interface with society, and there are bad ways to interface with society. I received an example of the latter.
If you are a regular Geneva Patch reader, you probably know that I am running for alderman in the 1st Ward. I would consider this “Tier 1” elected office ...”entry level” if you will. It’s hyper-local and should focus on the issues that we all know and care about. I know, to one degree or another, all the others in the 1st Ward race and would greet them cordially on the street. It is my hope and intent to keep this first effort toward public office fun.
In my naivety, I also thought it would be separate and isolated from the ugliest of the discourse that mars today’s politics. Prior to my officially announcing my candidacy on Aug. 15, it had trickled out via word of mouth. On Aug. 11, I received the following, anonymous note in my (snail) mailbox:
SHUT YOUR BIG, STUPID, EGO-FILLED, [EFF-ING] MOUTH! YOU HAVE NOTHING TO OFFER”
(I redacted the actual, fully-executed f-bomb that was furiously scrawled in the note.) I am not sure what reaction the sender was seeking, but am confident that my loud guffaw was not their goal. I have to presume it was to his/her dismay that my “official” announcement to run came four days later.
I personally take some amusement from it, but it disturbed my wife and some friends with whom I shared it. So for that, I return that redacted epithet to the sender for troubling the people that I care for. (I presume that the sender is reading this.)
I have written and spoken publicly on contentious topics in the areas of preservation versus property rights, church-state separation, evolution and politics. I am not one to shy away from animated discussion. Contentious debate is one of my favorite pastimes if everyone acts like adults. I don’t hide behind anonymity. I don’t go ad hominem. I don’t invoke invoke Hitler or Stalin to demonize my "opponent." I try to focus on facts and evidence. And I try to remain open to change my mind ... and I have been known to concede an argument. (But, thankfully, I am usually right. Thank you! I’ll be here all blog!)
I’ve no way of knowing for sure what elicited my nastygram, but it must have made him/her very angry. It is one thing to invest the eight seconds to draft an on-line comment or anonymous e-mail, but this person took the time to get stationary, address an envelope, commit a first-class postage stamp, and take it to the mailbox. There was a lot of time to consider the merits of sending some vulgar hate mail, and they decided, “Yes! I am going to send this anonymous hate mail! It is that important!”
I have to presume that I was on the opposite side of some issue that my postal nemesis holds near and dear. It could be my (brilliant/moving/compelling/inspiring—circle all that apply) defense of the Pure Oil building. During that tumult, our esteemed mayor and I shared a cordial coffee and related to me that “someone from the Historic District” was complaining that it seemed inappropriate that I should be speaking outside of the Historic Preservation Commission (on which I presently sit.) Some sort of “perception of impropriety” was the line of thinking. I thought I well made the case that that was a really ridiculous line of thinking since I had no vote on the matter during the appeal of the Historic Preservation Commission decision nor did I have any financial interest in keeping the building. One could point to a number of instances of “perception of impropriety” during that process, but you couldn’t point a finger at me.
But that is just one of a number of opinions that might have ruffled someone’s feathers. The proper response is to engage with ideas. The lobbing of anonymous vulgar hate mail reminds me of a quip by nobel-laureate economist Paul Krugman:
"When people call you 'shrill,' that means they don't actually have any way to answer what you just said"
Am I shrill? I hope so, because that means I’ve won the day!