Publication Note: This column was first published in the January 24, 2018 edition of the Lonoke County Democrat weekly newspaper, linked HERE in its original format. It is the 28th installment of the “Look at Lonoke” column. This week’s header photo above is courtesy of Trae Reed and is available for purchase from Provision UAS Aerial Photography.
We have a saying in our house that goes something like this: “ ‘No’ is not a suggestion.” The implication being, if you don’t agree, then be prepared with an alternate solution. For example, if Natalie suggests that we go eat catfish this evening, and that idea doesn’t sound good to me at the moment, if I simply reply, “I don’t want to go eat catfish,” then I am not being helpful, nor am I offering a solution for dinner. However, if I respond with, “I was thinking barbecue,” then I have submitted something for the rest of the family to consider. In voicing a specific alternative, I am advancing the discussion, rather than disrupting it. It also gives Natalie an opportunity to agree, or to offer a third solution. In advancing the discussion, we can easily reach the conclusion to drive over to Nick’s, where we can get both catfish AND barbecue. “No” is not a suggestion (but barbecue is certainly a solution)!
Of course, that is a very simple example, but in its simplicity, our family has found a model to build helpful conversation, rather than set the scene for a battle of preferences.
Healthy dialogue is about offering multiple paths and proposals within the context of a safe and respectful environment. Dialogue presumes the other person or people at the table will use their manners and present their heartfelt solutions without precondition or a demanding tone. In fact, tone is likely the most important factor in maintaining dialogue, and preventing a descent into fruitless argument. When we argue, even when a final conclusion is reached, we have degraded the tone, deflated the environment, and achieved nothing but, perhaps, acrimony. On top of all that, I still have to share a table with the person I was just arguing with. That makes it tough to build long-term health and progress.
My tone matters when making a suggestion. Timing matters too, as does venue. Do we often consider tone, timing, and venue when we express our perspective an opinions? Sadly, I believe that we do not.
Parker Loy is a leader in my life who recently gave a talk on the responsible use of social media. His focus, however, was not on the stereotypical aspects of social media use among our students and younger generations. Instead, his challenge was to the adults in the room to set a higher standard for how we interact together on social media. Parker notes that we make a mistake when we allow our emotions to control our actions online. He continues, “Social media debates are useless; tone and attitude are nearly impossible to determine in the comments of a post.”
With that lack of clarity, comes an opportunity for comments and rants to be broadly interpreted with negativity and offense.
I believe that we deceive ourselves when we hide behind the mask of online interaction to say things that are angry, harmful, or hurtful. We deceive ourselves if we believe the impact is lessened because that person is not in the room with us when we take them to task. We deceive ourselves if we do not believe that everything we post online or send in an email does not live forever.
It does. It matters. It hurts. Our words live forever, and have the power to spread quickly.
My words are a window to the condition of my heart, and if my words do not contribute to a healthy dialogue, offering solutions, avoiding personal attacks, and presenting a better, optimistic way forward, then I am responsible for the degradation of my community’s heart and soul.
So, how do we express our frustrations, concerns, or perspectives? Parker Loy suggests that we utilize our personal experience to encourage others. We are blessed to live in a diverse, multi-generational community here in Lonoke. I am surrounded by neighbors who have seen and experienced aspects of life that I have not, and I need to listen to them when they share their wealth of wisdom.
I believe, quite simply, it starts with respect and good manners. I would suggest that we first begin sharing our concerns in a face-to-face conversation, and avoid the noise, clutter, and fast pace of online banter. We must then seek out neutral, inclusive venues in which we may express challenging truths and solutions-oriented suggestions among others who also see themselves as stakeholders, not merely spectators or consumers.
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The other day, a big paper in New York City decried the disappearance of manners. And not just folks' manners north of the line, but Southerners. Well, Momma didn’t raise no heathens, and we thought this would be the right time to remind us all of what she and Daddy taught us. Manners might be going out of fashion up here, but they aren’t going to disappear from the South. Not on our watch, they’re not. No ma'am. Link in header.
After I share respectfully, I must also realize that my suggestion may not be adopted as the final solution. As we have discussed in a previous edition of this column, I must choose not to be offended. However, if my tone and intent are respectful, then it is very likely that a key element or two from my suggestion may play a role in crafting the final solution that we generate together.
Lonoke is a small town with big potential. We believe this about ourselves. That potential lies in the lives of women and men in all neighborhoods of our community who need to be heard. I am proud of the citizens and volunteers of this community who have determined to engage in a transparent, respectful conversation about how we can undertake a process of healthy growth together. I am proud of creative students who are determined to see and build connections that will result in an improved town in the very near future.
So here is our challenge: be an ambassador for the overlooked good in our community. Advocate for the creative solutions that others are working so hard to implement. Seek to be a leader who is able to sacrifice your own preference and comfort in order to create an environment in which your neighbors are heard and respected. Seek to be a leader who listens and values the creative suggestions of others. Do not fear opposition, but instead, optimistically embrace a diverse mix of perspectives within the context of creating a brighter future. This won’t be the last time we share the table together. Let’s make sure that this current conversation sets the tone for the next five years of conversations. When people around us look at Lonoke, they will see a group of citizens who have decided to do things differently.
Do you have an idea for how we can implement a better future for our town? You are not alone. A group of volunteer leaders has been working for nearly two years to pursue an inclusive, meaningful vision for Lonoke. These citizens are determined to elevate the conversation, rather than escalate the frustration. Your voice is needed among these volunteers. If you must use social media, Parker Loy suggests that we use it for good- to show love to those who are hurting. We must stop and think first, slow down our reaction, and create a well-composed solution in the form of a suggestion. Encouragement generates progress.
Posting a rant or defensive reaction to someone else’s suggestion may be momentarily cathartic for me, but it could create a lifetime of negative grudges among my neighbors. We should be aware that people are watching, and their impression of our community may be entirely based on uninformed negativity posted on social media, rather than diligent investigation into the heart, soul, and people of our town. With your articulation of concern over the very real deficiencies that we face, determine to be an encourager of ideas and people who are taking steps address the concerns at a grassroots level. Good communication covers a multitude of festering, negative emotions.
Ryan Biles and his wife Natalie are raising three boys, the oldest of which turns 8 years old this week! Archives and additional content are online at www.lookatlonoke.com .