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Mayors of Utah Valley: Ridicule is out, healthy disagreement now in vogue

By Tom Westmoreland - Special to the Daily Herald | Apr 1, 2023

Courtesy Eagle Mountain

Eagle Mountain Mayor Tom Westmoreland

Has anyone else noticed there is a lack of respect and common decency in our political discourse?

I don’t believe I’m alone when observing that the conversations being had — especially where the issues affecting American society are concerned — seem a little brusque. You might say the ways in which we’re speaking to each other are just plain rude.

President Theodore Roosevelt once said that “Politeness is a sign of dignity, not subservience.”

Yet, in our current times, and given an increasing number of issues ripe for thoughtful consideration, we often find ourselves falling short of our highest ideals. This is a problem that must be addressed.

According to the Pew Research Center, 4 in 10 Americans have reported being harassed online. The majority of those respondents cited politics as the primary reason this harassment occurred.

Courtesy Utah Department of Cultural and Community Engagement

This image shows the proposed new Utah flag on top and the existing flag on the bottom.

More survey data indicates that Americans see stronger societal conflict than citizens of other advanced economies.

In Utah, we have a responsibility to find a better way to disagree. Gov. Spencer Cox has caught on to the consequences of unhealthy communication in our politics.

During an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” in February, Cox described that the extremes on the left and right have created an exhausted majority in the middle.

“Let’s stop fighting about the stuff that doesn’t matter, and actually get to work,” Cox said.

While there is difficulty in identifying specific causes of unhealthy political conflict, there is substantial research available that regular, positive contact with someone from another group reduces intergroup animosity.

Michael Wyke, Associated Press

A counter protester, center, is shouted down and has his megaphone taken away by rally attendees for pro-gun control efforts at Discovery Green Park, across the street from the National Rifle Association Annual Meeting held at the George R. Brown Convention Center Friday, May 27, 2022, in Houston.

This same result is reported when observing someone from your side of the aisle interacting positively with an opponent.

Perhaps we ought to consider venturing outside of our respective political bubbles with the intent of finding a sense of understanding.

This does not mean we compromise our values or sense of integrity. It does mean, however, that we can invite new perspectives into our lives in a way that can positively impact our relationships, our communities and our country.

These principles were recently important for me to apply. Those who follow the local news may have heard about some concerns regarding Eagle Mountain’s drinking water.

What started as a simple question about a chlorine-like taste on a community Facebook page turned into serious doubts and hostilities about the safety of the product being sent into our resident’s taps.

As a city government, Eagle Mountain was left scrambling to provide testing data on the water being used. New tests were ordered, results were analyzed and a campaign providing information to our residents was launched to help facilitate understanding.

Eagle Mountain’s drinking water fell well within the state of Utah’s acceptable limits for safety. Despite this, some residents felt the need to perform their own tests, request uncommon tests that would help prove its safety and indicate their disbelief when confronted with the evidence.

In moments such as these, it is important as mayor to quell concerns and take the time to hear residents in their own words. It is also important to communicate the information in a way residents can understand.

Beneath this blame and denial of the evidence, I believe, is a sincere longing to know both themselves and their loved ones are safe. In the end, everyone is striving to ensure the same end goal: that the quality of the drinking water is high while the cost of providing it is low.

By keeping these common yearnings in mind, the decision-making around the issue was clarified in a meaningful way. Not everyone was on board, but enough understood the matter to feel like it was properly addressed.

I could not disagree more with Saul Alinsky. In his 1971 book “Rules for Radicals,” he expounds on how ridicule is man’s most effective weapon.

“There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions,” Alinsky says in the book.

This isn’t healthy behavior. It’s questionable at best and counterproductive in the long run at worst.

Techniques such as ridicule are common to score political points. I would argue there’s a strong correlation between the techniques currently being used to illicit certain political outcomes and recent data with societal implications.

According to Pew Research, as signs of partisan hostility grow, Americans — notably younger Americans — have grown increasingly disillusioned with the two party system. Just 20% of Americans say they trust government to do the right thing.

This could have substantial impacts on our government at all levels in the future.

As Utahns, we may find ourselves disagreeing over the appearance of the new state flag, tax cuts or our deepest values. One thing is clear, in my opinion: healthy disagreement leads to better solutions and better outcomes.

So remember, when disagreeing over the stuff that matters, politeness is a sign of dignity, not subservience.


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