Listening is one thing, agreeing is another

By Edi Birsan on May 21, 2018

This story should be told in your best grandfather voice, while rocking back and forth and talking to a young one.

“A long time ago in the Old Country, there was a little boy who did not watch when he crossed the road and was hit by a carriage – with his leg being crushed badly. He became lame. He went to the village’s new young priest and said: ‘I prayed to God, but I am still lame. He is not answering me.’ The priest gave him a prayer bead ritual and said the boy should be good and listen to his mother. Later that month, the boy returned with the same story: ‘He is not listening.’ So after another few months of variation on the theme, there happened to be a chance encounter with the pope. Bringing the boy to the pope, the priest explained the plight. The pope turned to the child and said: ‘No is also an answer.’ ”

For politicians, the hardest thing is saying “no.” And for constituents, sometimes “no” is the hardest thing to hear. Politicians will try to delay, or obfuscate in some way or employ what is described as double speak – or as I put it: “Political Posturing-Big Spin, known more popularly as PP-BS.

As mayor, I try to respond to all messages coming into the office. Many times, staff will have already started outreach on the issue. At times, there is just one side of the issue presented in the message, since people aren’t often inclined to give a full scope of views on an issue about which they are passionate or infuriated.

When I was a city constituent, I hated when there was never an answer. So I have tried to respond as openly as I can, while remembering that issues can have valid arguments on both sides. Most things are not simple. If they were, we would not need people in government – we could have an algorithm resolve everything.

This also brings about an interesting cultural/social aspect when there are supporting tidbits used to reinforce an argument. My mother used to say that when you went to a cocktail party, you do not talk about sex, politics or religion and if someone should bring it up, just listen and do not engage as a way to remain respectful. Dear Ol’ Dad, on the other hand, was a scientist and his view was that if you respected and liked someone, it was disrespectful not to engage if they presented an argument that was supported by something false. After all, wouldn’t you tell your friend that his fly was down?

Having a false argument does not mean they are lying. The word “wrong” also exists in the English language. But you have to listen fairly. And even when “no” is the answer, you have to make use of a few more words than the Divine.

There may be a reason Dad and I never got invited to a lot of cocktail parties.

To sit down with the mayor and have him practice his listening skills, reach him at City Hall at 925-671-3158 or run into him at Peet’s Coffee at Oak Grove and Treat.

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