A View from Glen Hill: Remember the golden rule

I parked beside a car at the train station last week that bore a single bumper sticker. The sticker said simply, “Be Kind.” I found it an eloquent haiku for our times, and especially so at this moment in our town.

What form criticism takes is important, and no more so than in public discourse. I had occasion to write on this subject several months ago in a different specific context, and I renew my plea now. I do so with the thought very much in mind that we as a town both need and want to attract the very best in volunteer public servants to fill important roles on town boards, and we also seek to employ the very best in town positions as paid employees, especially in leadership positions.

That critical goal is made much harder when criticism takes the form not of “I think your policy is wrong” or “Here’s why you should do things differently” but rather “You are violating your oath of office” or “You are committing perjury” and when threats of criminal as well as civil prosecution are thrown around to seek to get your way. Tactics like these are deplorable, and they should actually be counterproductive to getting what you seek because any town that gives in to such outrageous threats will have no end of them from those who think the end justifies the means and see such abhorrent conduct rewarded with knuckling under to demands, no matter how overreaching and ill-considered they may be, just because they come loaded with outrageous threats.

Those who pursue such practices damage our town’s ability to get the best to serve. Who willingly agrees to step into a position, especially an unpaid position, where such charges will be bandied about against him or her as if they were so much sliced bread?

That being said, the very ridiculousness of the extreme degree of criticism that terms like these reflect detracts from the credibility of the claims made and reveals them for the coercive threats that they are: “Do what I say or I’ll pursue claims in a scorched earth way out of all proportion to the issues involved or the reality of the underlying situation that the threats purport to be seeking to address.”

Meanwhile, the consequences of these demands and scorched-earth threats are that valuable town resources of the time of its leadership, both paid and volunteer, are expended on addressing charges even as town financial resources are expended on legal fees and other otherwise unnecessary expenses. The conduct is as irresponsible as throwing a lighted stick of dynamite into a crowd to see what will happen.

Rather than going ballistic and making threats at every turn, there is another way to proceed that many of us learned in kindergarten: be decent. State your case without threatening disaster on those whom you think oppose doing what you want. State it firmly and strongly for sure, but also listen to the position of those you feel oppose you and actually consider it. And await the outcome if information is still being developed. Finally, give some credence to the notion that those who volunteer their time in service to our town are actually doing their work for the good of our town and at considerable personal sacrifice of time with their families, work in their businesses, etc.

And for those whom you would attack who are paid town employees, consider the outstanding record of their service to our town and make your comments at least minimally courteous and devoid of gratuitous and ill-considered threats, however “holy” you may believe your crusade to be notwithstanding the available facts and evidence.

Public figures make easy targets for unwarranted attack, and they are undoubtedly aware of that fact in agreeing to take their positions. But that doesn’t mean that such charges and threats out of all proportion to the facts don’t hurt them and don’t damage our town’s ability to get the best to serve. They do. Moreover, and most fundamentally, in the words of a noted Boston lawyer addressed to a bullying demagogue over a half-century ago and spoken in defense of a beleaguered young colleague, “Have you no sense of decency?”

Mr. Hudspeth lives on Glen Hill Road.