Civil discourse, long a bedrock of our democratic society, appears to have suffered a stress fracture of late. It’s difficult to ascertain the actual cause of why so many people have begun to verbally assail their fellow citizens merely because they have a difference of opinion about one topic or another. Perhaps it’s because we, the people, are frustrated by our governance and some of us have a predilection to bluster when exasperated. Whatever the cause, the result may lead to boorish behavior that is often so ludicrous that it belongs in a comedy act.
This deportment is obviously a national phenomenon, and Bainbridge Island has not been spared since it has its share of nincompoops. Here, the loudest of the discontented tend to be males over the age of 50 who, whether their instrument of spewing is a blog, a microphone at City Hall or the corner coffeehouse, seem to have fallen in love with their own voices or the ability to insult others. It’s as if the fine art of listening has been completely eradicated from their behavioral repertoire.
When witnessing such an embarrassment, there’s the overwhelming wish for the man’s mother to suddenly appear, grab her grown child by the earlobe, chastise and then usher him from the surroundings. Parents can do that, perhaps, but no one else because, fortunately, this is a country where we are free to practice speech wherever we wish without the fear of being censured, or at least being hauled away to the nearest gulag. One would hope, however, that occasionally the bullies will choke on their words while attending public meetings, at least allowing others gathered to slip in a sentence or two.
A tame but annoying version occurred Thursday evening at City Hall, when a mild-mannered employee of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration made a presentation about how $3.3 million in Wyckoff Superfund Site settlement funds may be spent to restore some of the island’s marine environment that suffered from the adverse effects of the old creosote plant. He was there to collect ideas, explain the process and detail four sites – the Strawberry Plant Park, Pritchard Park’s west shoreline, the Pritchard Park’s Milwaukee Dock eelgrass beds, and Blakely Harbor Park – that best meet the criteria established by the project’s trustees.
The session had promise because, among the 30 or so people in attendance, most appeared to be well-versed on the subject and environment. However, the moment was spoiled by two men with definite agendas (saving Strawberry Plant Park because of its public access to the waterfront and its historic value). They pontificated at length, badgering the NOAA representative with questions – and accusations – he couldn’t answer because they involved the city’s responsibilities or politics. He was there to talk about how to return eelgrass, flat fish and other aquatic vertebrates to their natural environment – not to get involved in the factional dialogue that is an island staple.
Essentially, the agitators selfishly slid into a bully pulpit they refused to relinquish. They weren’t mean, just obsessed. They had something to say and were not interested in debating their opinions, paying little attention to other attendees. That was fortunate, but their need to dominate the discussion clearly perturbed those who sought information from the moderator and often couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Several people got up and left prematurely. That’s the shame of it all.
Wisely, most people refuse to engage in such truculence, but that may lead to passivity or avoidance regarding civic issues. Don’t let that happen. Perseverance can mend most breaches.