As we prepare for Town Meeting tomorrow, it is good to remember that we are all neighbors living in the same town. We will have differences of opinion, but how we address these differences will further mutual understanding of them or widen the divisiveness. It will define us as a community that either has learned to listen to each other respectfully and constructively, or one that does not tolerate differing points of view.Our one day of true democracy is typically an emotional one, because our belief and convictions run strong and deep in all of us.
Unruly behavior and actions distract us from an honest an open dialogue. Town meeting is not a place for cheap shots, misdirected arguments or personal attacks.
This article in the Concord Monitor has some good current examples of how Town meeting decorum has taken on the demeanor of national politics:
- “A debate over a controversial new noise ordinance devolved into a shouting match Tuesday as voters in Andover overwhelming defeated the measure,” the Monitor reported on Wednesday.
- From Hillsboro that same night, reporter Ella Nilsen wrote, “As the fight became prolonged, some residents called for (Selectman Alan) Urquhart’s microphone to be cut and yelled for him to get off the stage.”
- In Salisbury, the presence of a New Hampshire state trooper was requested at Tuesday’s town meeting because residents were so upset about the prospect of withdrawing from Merrimack Valley School District. “As I started to see how this was going to be received, I was a little bit afraid of getting lynched,” said Ken Ross-Raymond, the chairman of the board of selectmen. It was a bit of hyperbole that elicited chuckles, yet there stood the trooper right up until the moment the article was tabled, which didn’t take long.
The article ends with these excellent recommendations:
"Vigorous debate helps clarify ideas and strengthen the democratic process. Anger and frustration are understandable at times because town meeting issues always hit close to home, but shouting and name-calling are like sledgehammer blows to a fragile foundation.
While we don’t expect civility to make a comeback overnight, there is an obvious path forward. It involves listening to opposing viewpoints dispassionately, calmly assessing the argument’s merits and shortcomings, and offering a thoughtful response in a measured tone. The person with whom you disagree shouldn’t be seen as a threat but a neighbor with a different perspective.
It’s important to stand for something, but that doesn’t mean positions should be defended as if existence itself was at stake. And even if it was, civility would still be preferable to shouting."