Yesterday I published a blog that contained the email chain between a citizen and school board member. In the email, the BOE member had a tone that was arrogant and dismissive toward the opinions of another health care professional.
I got some backlash from people who knew the board member. She is well respected in her community, she would never say anything like that, and so on. Okay on the first part. I don’t know the woman, but I can imagine she is well respected in the community. She was elected to the Board of Education after all and that means something.
But, on the second one, I have to disagree. Not only WOULD she say “something like that” she did say “something like that.” And, for that, like all of us, she is open to comment and criticism. She is a public official and every written communication to a member of the public is, by law, available to the public. I will give her credit for responding as most public officials nowadays seem to be unwilling to even acknowledge that members of the public exist.
So, she aired her opinion and she did it in an arrogant and dismissive way, in the opinion of the constituent and others, including me.
Maybe ten years ago, no one would have cared or noticed. Times are different today. When you have people who are constantly being told by those “in charge” that the people are the problem, that they are stupid, and that the data/observations they make have don’t matter, that what they see as contradictory isn’t, an email with a tone that seems more like a pat on the head to a child than a respectful examination of what was sent, well, that just isn’t going to fly.
And it didn’t. And so we called her out on it.
It’s time public officials understand one thing. The old days of the public accepting anything government officials say or do as the end of the discussion are over.
For one thing, there is too much information out there that contradicts the government line. There is a ton of data, some even from government agencies, that directly disputes what they do or say. The public can now communicate with people in other counties, states, and countries. They can compare notes, share ideas, etc. And all in a matter of minutes.
Whether all that information is valuable, credible, etc. is certainly open to debate. But, the mere fact that people can find it, reason through it, and decide to accept or deny it, changes the paradigm of public governance. Imagine if, in the 60’s, the public had total access to the decisions that landed us in Vietnam, or the actions of the FBI in regards to Martin Luther King Jr, or even some of the medical practices of the time. I have a feeling things might have gone differently.
And now you know why so many in the government are pressuring social media to suppress and censor free speech. Their lives are much harder and we stand in the way of their power.
Some will say that all of this information has made the public much too distrustful, too gullible, too open to disinformation. I might agree on the gullibility and disinformation part. As a consumer, we have to be more diligent about our research, our critical thinking. But, I say that the citizens of a government should always be slightly distrustful of what government does. It’s what keeps everyone honest. And, we should be responsible for our own research.
It also brings us to a new understanding of the people who are in government positions. Like our School Board member, they are likely people who have the respect and admiration of their communities. People who know them personally will certainly vouch for their integrity, caring, etc. But that doesn’t mean those officials can’t say things that are arrogant, dismissive, or worse. It doesn’t mean they always do the right thing.
And when they are arrogant and dismissive, we need to be able to criticize and expose it. Why?
First, we have to acknowledge that they are human. And humans can be wrong, right, rude, insulting, etc. Doesn’t mean they are evil, well at least most of them. Second, we need to be able to respond to what they say, even if it is just to point out to them that they are not being respectful. More important, they need to know we are paying attention and we will not just ignore it and go away.
For them, it’s important that they understand the message they are sending, particularly if their motives are honest but their words are not.
Personally, I hope that public officials show their true selves to us as much as possible. I want to know if you are arrogant and dismissive when it comes to medical information. It helps me understand what is behind the votes you make.
Most of them won’t. The fact that in the last six months I have written various officials multiple times and have received a limited number of responses, some “out of office” replies, has proven to me that they are too cowardly or dishonest to reply, or they just don’t care. ( i.e. our Governor Hogan.) And yes, some of them are too busy. That’s why they have staff. But their staffs are too busy also.
I had a county council person tell me a month ago that me and parents speaking to him was ” a waste of my (his) time.” That statement is what they all think. We, the peons, the great unwashed, are a waste of their time. We are an inconveinence.
Not. Any. More.
And, in the end, this is the point of me sharing the email. We have to hold these officials, nice or not, well loved and respected or not, accountable for everything they say and do.
We may hurt some feelings. So be it. They volunteered and campaigned for the job. Sorry, not sorry.