During the last couple of months, admittedly, I’ve expressed my deep frustration on a number of issues– issues that, for the most part, I was unwilling to discuss whenever I was working and living in Alexandria.
I fully recognize that I often take a direct and confrontational tone. As a blogger, I reserve my right to be snarky and irreverent, and as someone who enjoys writing, I also reserve my right to use language– to provoke, to challenge, and, at the very least, to attempt to engage.
After spending the last few years of my life on the front lines of Alexandria– living and breathing the news every single hour of every single day– I think I am qualified to diagnose its problems. I recognize that my opinions won’t be universally shared or accepted, but I earnestly hope that those who claim a desire to help and to positively contribute will, at the very least, hear me out, without resorting to ad hominem attacks or veiled threats of physical violence.
Throughout the last few years, I’ve been the subject and the target of a series of absurd and corrosive attacks, yet I have also been buoyed by the support of a great number of people– people who constantly remind me of the need to take the high road, people who encourage and believe in the free and open exchange of ideas, good people– servants and champions of the local community who understand the pressing and overwhelming need for all of us to participate in a real and frank discussion.
Earlier today, I was reminded of what President Obama said during his speech in Tucson, following the senseless massacre that targeted Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. In my opinion, it wasn’t just the best speech of his political career; it ranks among the best in American history. He reminded the country of the need for us to speak to one another in “words that heal,” not in “words that wound.”
In a world plagued by existential injustices, it’s not always easy to know how to strike that balance. Whenever I see injustice– like many people, I can’t help but feel a gut reaction. Words come instinctually: Wrong, evil, mean, stupid, unfair, hateful. How could you do this? Why?
Sometimes, it’s appropriate to say all of this. Sometimes, we need to remind one another that hate and despair can be as pervasive as good and hope. We need to remember that people may claim to support the common good, while they perversely exploit our trust. And in such cases, it’s almost impossible for an honest arbiter to strike a balanced tone. We need not be constantly “civil,” for the mere sake of civility.
In Alexandria, for example, we don’t need to ignore the negligence and vituperativeness of City Councilpersons who appear more intent on hurting a single politician than helping an entire City. There’s an important conversation to be had, but as long as we are constrained by racial divisiveness — and as long as our entrusted elected officials continue to traffic in these painful and retrograde divisions– we will continue to be mired in the politics of the past; we will continue to ascribe importance to a small, vocal, but dying contingency of racial ideologues.
Down in New Orleans, people are outraged that a radio host took a $250,000 loan from a man who owned a landfill company that the host helped to advance, while on air. It’s not “uncivil” or mean-spirited for anyone to remind the people of Alexandria that one of our own talk show hosts allegedly submitted a bid to manage and purchase a publicly-owned hotel and that this very host now takes to the airwaves, regularly, to criticize and undermine the value of the property that he apparently seeks (or sought) to purchase. Imagine if you had your eyes set on buying an awesome house at a bargain basement price. You placed an offer in, and then, your offer was rejected. So, in response, you took to the radio and began bashing the home, its owner, and its sales price. Maybe it’s your right, but it doesn’t make your actions right.
And it’s also not wrong or uncivil to remind people that Alexandria’s most prolific blogger, Greg Aymond, was once a member of the KKK or that he recently represented the White Nationalists during the Jena Six. Clients don’t really choose their lawyers; lawyers choose their clients.
If we’re going to have a serious conversation, then we need to be willing to put everything in context. That’s not only the right thing to do; that’s civil. That ensures a more honest and more inclusive conversation. That’s the high road.