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Jeff Ward: Let's Engage Rational People in Rational Conversations

If toning down the national debate doesn't work, let's engage the rational folks!

It’s funny how some silver screen scenes seem to stick with you. I’m not sure if we have the correct movie title here, but if I was a betting man, I’d say it was 1993’s Tombstone with Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday.

Early on in the movie, the protagonists are charged with removing a belligerent patron from a town casino. The owners of that establishment realized this regular customer’s abysmal behavior was chasing every other patron out of the place.

Ah! But when confronted with some folks who meant business, this bully backed away faster than Rick Santorum at a gay pride parade. And the casino went on to prosper.

And I found myself thinking about that scene immediately upon hearing that Geneva District 304 School Board President Tim Moran was stepping down after a three-day hospitalization for chest pains. Thankfully, he came through those tests with flying colors.

Moran said he will complete his term, with Vice President Mark Grosso stepping in to fill that leadership role until the board votes on a permanent replacement.

And Moran isn’t the only Illinois elected official whose health seems to have been affected by the stress of the job. We’ve all heard about U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk’s recent stroke. Not even his doctors can say it was the job, but as a moderate Republican, Kirk has been the target of some of the most vicious personal attacks I’ve ever seen. He’s also in pretty good shape and, at 52, is far too young to suffer this kind of debilitating stroke.

Before we continue, I want be clear that, in this column, I’m not talking about any particular person, activist group or political faction. It’s not that I’m afraid to call 'em out when it’s called for, it’s just that it’s not germane to this conversation.

With that caveat covered, at this point, I’d typically trumpet the need to tone down the timbre of the national and local debate, but those past efforts have proven so futile, there’s no point in traveling that lonesome road one more time.

And it’s not just politics. I’ve had at least a half-dozen teachers tell me that is at an all-time high, we’ve already discussed , and we’re seeing too many newspaper articles on workplace incivility.

How did it get so personal? When did the fact that we disagree with someone automatically turn them into part of a conspiracy-ridden cabal intent on world, or state of Illinois, or Geneva domination?

So if we’re not going down that side street, then where are we headed? Though I’m sorely tempted, I’m certainly not going to ask you to do your best Earp brothers impersonation by trying to make any and all belligerent folks back down.

Actually, I think it’s time for journalists to take on that job. We need reporters and editors and columnists everywhere to start taking on the bullies—any bully, on all sides. I don’t care what your political flavor is, where the process is headed these days means no one in their right mind will be willing to run, so we’ll only end up with folks who aren’t in their right mind.

Before you get too complacent, I’m not asking you to take a step back, either. That only encourages the bullies. When you think about the 21,000-plus people in Geneva, the vast majority are quite reasonable.

The problem is, much like those absent Tombstone casino patrons who fled in the face of an unbridled thug, we’re choosing not to engage in the face of this blistering political solar wind. We stay silent. The dismal voter turnout in recent elections certainly bears that out.

And it’s exactly this failure to participate that gives the minuscule minority the capacity to steal the show. So in an effort to think global, but act local, what I’m asking Geneva citizens and public officials to do is take two steps forward! The first step to show you’re willing to engage with community members who might disagree with you, and the second to show you’re willing to move past any folks who use rhetoric and personal attacks to co-opt the process.

Because if either or both sides take a step back, it only pushes us all farther apart.

Yes! It’s important for elected officials to be held accountable for their actions, but the fact that they occasionally make a bad decision doesn’t make them evil, nor does it absolve us from choosing more wisely. School bond referendums don’t just pass themselves.

As I’ve also often said, no one put a gun to anyone’s head and said run for public office, but no elected official should ever wake up in the middle of the night with unexplained chest pains, either.

So here’s my thought. When the screamers of the world become a permanent fixture, our best option is talk past them, because when rational people engage, bullies lose their power.

Mike February 01, 2012 at 03:30 PM
Another Home Run Jeff. Keep on keeping on.
Terry Flanagan February 01, 2012 at 03:38 PM
There are two important attitude adjustments that need to be made in discussing issues and they're both really related. The first is not to take any difference of opinion personally. The second is to leave your ego out of the discussion. Bullying is often brought on by an over-sized ego that may actually be masking a massive inferiority complex. None of us are that smart that we can't learn a thing or two by listening. If we put our egos in check, listen to others with an open mind, and contribute our own opinions without shouting, there's virtually no limit to what we might accomplish.
Mike February 01, 2012 at 03:44 PM
Well said Terry
Mark Wissing February 01, 2012 at 04:19 PM
WOW imagine this, I think I just agreed with Mr. Ward. Please pinch me I must be dreaming. If I am not dreaming then it is a good opportunity to examine ourselves.
Jeff Ward February 01, 2012 at 04:20 PM
Mark, Even a broken clock is right twice a day! Jeff
Martha Hanna February 01, 2012 at 04:34 PM
I haven't voted for a republican in, well I can't remember....but I was sad to hear about our Senator Mark Kirk.
Bob McQuillan February 01, 2012 at 05:55 PM
I'm glad you didn't mention any names. I don't think opinion writers should be annointed as the keepers of common sense. "The problem is, much like those absent Tombstone casino patrons who fled in the face of an unbridled thug, we’re choosing not to engage in the face of this blistering political solar wind. We stay silent. The dismal voter turnout in recent elections certainly bears that out." Your own words say everyone remains silent because of "thugs." Maybe those now speaking out are doing so because of the "thugs" that have been running things for a long time. Maybe the "thugs" have never been held accountable before and don't like being questioned by the taxpayers. Just my opinion. You have yours, I have mind. You keep saying that people should do something and then when they do, you don't like what they did. You then try to berate them with your comments. Did you ever think you might be a "thug?" Please don't say that Tim Moran's health issues had to do with his role as President of the School Board. Tim is a good, stay up guy and you should keep your opinion about his health to yourself unless he told you it was ok to discuss them on what is a public blogging site. Your editor was invited to the launch of GenevaTaxFACTS website, he had family obligations and couldn't make it. I invite everyone to go to www.genevataxfacts.org and see what keeping silent has done to Geneva. I agree the public should keep silent no more. Jeff, now you can berate me
Jeff Ward February 01, 2012 at 05:59 PM
Tim Moran's health problems are a direct result of his serving on the school board. End of story. Take from that what you will.
Garry February 01, 2012 at 06:50 PM
Jeff Ward :"Tim Moran's health problems are a direct result of his serving on the school board. End of story. " This is what passes for 'rational conversation"?
Jeff Ward February 01, 2012 at 07:02 PM
Garry, I converse reasonably with reasonable people. Jeff
Bob McQuillan February 01, 2012 at 07:16 PM
Thank you Dr. Ward You just said that many of your "readers" are not reasonable people. Just check your past comments to your "readers" to see how you treat unreasonable people. It must be nice to live in the world of Jeff Ward where you can solve all your world's problems and not listen to people who disagree with your "thug" mentality. I prefer to live in the world of www.genevataxfacts.org Go ahead Jeff, I know you want to find something you disagree with on the website. You'll need to look long and hard because the site only contains FACTS about how the taxing bodies in this area operate and treat their taxpayers.
Jeff Ward February 01, 2012 at 07:36 PM
Bob, No, I said one person wasn't reasonable. Jeff
Bob McQuillan February 01, 2012 at 08:09 PM
Jeff Re-read your post and then look at your comments to people who disagree with you. Then look in the mirrior. Your actions speak louder than your words. I'm finished with this thread, you'll never agree with me on anything so I'll spend my time on www.genevataxfacts.org. You're welcome to visit, we'll treat you as a true guest
Lou B. February 01, 2012 at 09:54 PM
"Tim Moran's health problems are a direct result of his serving on the school board." Jeff... care to post a copy of your medical degree?
Lou B. February 01, 2012 at 09:55 PM
Jeff Ward asking for reason is very much like Charles Manson asking for decorum.

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