March 05, 2014 - I was listening to an old-timer last week and he said something that kinda stuck with me for a while. His words bounced back and forth between the walls of my skull, like a ping-pong ball in the black void of nothingness that sits atop my shoulders.
We both attended a public meeting of a duly elected body of local government. I sat behind him. After said meeting, I approached the board but before I could reach the electeds, the old-timer recognized me. (How he recognized yours truly, I don't know. These days I'm incognito. The picture to the right shows a cleanly shaven, baby face. The one I'm presenting to the public these days is a face with a trimmed, gray beard.)
"If I would have known that was you when I walked in, I woulda kicked you in the leg. I didn't like what you wrote last week," he said.
He explained that one person should not be allowed to continually point out -- publicly -- what is wrong with a small, local government. "That one man can bring down the government and that isn't right," he concluded.
I listened politely, assured him by a touch to his left shoulder with my right hand that I appreciated his opinion, and that most folks don't agree with me. The problem for the many, however, is a few do.
* * *
As the old-timer's words hammered inside my skull, they must have created a spark. The spark must have shown a light (though brief) on some long-dormant thoughts of mine. And, the more I pondered the old-timer's lament, the more it bounced and the more it sparked. More light shown; life grew. My thoughts blossomed.
A long time ago, and I am talking decades now, I learned what set America apart from the rest of world is our Constitution and the rights enumerated therein. The Constitution states the roll of government -- as it relates to the individual. I learned that ours is not a true democracy, because a true democracy is nothing more than mob rule. In a democracy, nine cannibals can vote to eat the tenth. Ours is constitutionally limited republic, which protects the tenth cannibal.
To quote the Bill of Rights Institute, "The United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and all subsequent amendments pertain to or protect individual rights."
The individual is the basic unit of society and therefore it is incumbent that the individual be heard.
* * *
I understood/understand the old-timer's consternation to a thorn-in-the-side resident -- a resident who's tenacious as a junkyard dog. It's uncomfortable. Complaints need to be heard and investigated and this uses precious (and limited) resources and time. Does this mean we ignore the complaint? There is a quote that is attributed to Thomas Jefferson that I don't think came from his pen or was uttered by his lips, but I like it nonetheless. It's this: "In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock."
Should a man or woman, if they believe their government is acting in err, bow to pressures asserted from their neighbors or stand firm? What would you do?
What would the old-timer do if he thought his government was acting unjustly, or contrary to its own rules? Would he have a backbone and fight for what he believed was right, or would he succumb to peer pressure? And, speaking of peer pressure, what message would he tell his kids and grandkids, "go ahead and do (fill in your own verb) because all the other kids are doing it?"
In the news business we have a word for residents who pay attention as opposed to just paying their taxes. We call them "watchdogs."
People who hold the feet of government to the fire are few and far between. Their uncommonness is newsworthy. If everybody did this, we'd have better government and then it wouldn't be newsy. Heck, then newspapers would only print positive, rah-rah news. We reap what we sew and unfortunately our government, from the highest seats in the nation, to the closest seats here at home is only as good as the folks we vote in.
I've been accused of trying to stir up controversy and quite the opposite is true. I usually hold on to things for longer than I need. People call me all the time about how they were mistreated. Ninety-nine percent of the time I try to get the two parties together to work things out, personally and not in public, even if it would have made a great newsstory.
The other one percent of the time, I go public. You can make your own assumptions as to why.
I'll end with a real quote from Jefferson, "If ever you find yourself environed with difficulties and perplexing circumstances, out of which you are at a loss how to extricate yourself, do what is right, and be assured that that will extricate you the best out of the worst situations. Tho' you cannot see when you fetch one step, what will be the next, yet follow truth, justice, and plain-dealing, and never fear their leading you out of the labyrinth in the easiest manner possible." August 19, 1785.
Don is Assistant Publisher for Sherman Publications, Inc. He has worked for the company since 1985. He has won numerous awards for column, editorial and feature writing as well as for photography. He has two, sons Shamus and Sean and resides in the area. To read archived copies of his columns, click on his name, just under his picture up top . . . He can be e-mailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org