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Group Aims To Restore Civililty To San Diego's Civic Dialogue

Even when attention is available, even when people are listening or attending to what someone has to say, the cleverness of the communication often takes precedence over sincerity. This situation may fairly be seen as a natural outcome of our detached channels of communication., a cultural habit. It's as though people have become so entranced by all the new devices through which we can communicate that we have forgotten about the benefits of direct open and sincere communication.

The advantage of avoiding sincere communication is that the participants are less vulnerable, and feel less vulnerable. It's fair to say that provocative communications of the style that so often occurs in the public arena is safer for the speakers then being authentic and sincere. For good reason people shun sincerity because often they are exploited by the very types of provocation that so often fill the media today. Perhaps if public figures kept in mind that provocative comments exhibit a sort of cowardice, they might try some other way of presenting their points of view. But it is true that we live in a world where lifting a phrase from some public figure's comments is considered moral, even when by doing so it misrepresents what that person was intending. Sadly people who complain about such practices are often chided: if you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen. But of course such attitudes only perpetuate the insincerity of provocative declarations and do nothing to further sincerity in our national dialogue.

The alternative to all the gamesmanship of public communication today is speaking authentically face-to-face, while looking at the other. And of course it is not enough in such moments simply to declare one's position. One has to be to be willing to examine that position in detail, including its implications (both good and bad). Rather than having two entrenched ideologies lobbying rhetorical grenades at each other across some no man's land, the principles involved in these important public negotiations need to man up and sit facing one another -- literally -- and begin discussing how they each see the consequences of their (own) points of view.

If this type of exchange is going on now, it is getting no press. Understandably a conversation of this sort is not easily revealed to the public; it is too easily misunderstood and manipulated by people not wanting to be sincere or authentic but only wanting attention or to manipulate an ignorant public. But imagine what would happen if such a conversation ever were to be broadcast. Arguably, we would enter a new world. As things are today, such an exchange only can exist publicly in some fictionalized account by a popular author. Perhaps someday we will be courageous enough culturally to let that fictionalized event occur in the real world. That would show everyone what respect looks like and what it can accomplish.

February 19, 2013 at 2:13 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

Group Aims To Restore Civililty To San Diego's Civic Dialogue

How to be respectful? The program's speakers had many good points and presented some useful things to keep in mind, but they missed what seems to me to be the core of respect and respectful communication: being present to and for the other person.

Yes, our world is filled now with methods of communication where we do not have to be present to the other person. Almost certainly this makes it easier to be disrespectful and the goal of civility in our communications becomes more elusive. Many communications today occur without attending to how the audience, the individual to whom the communication is directed, is responding. We just put out what we have to say and it's up to the audience to do with it what they may. But truly respectful communication is an interchange and occurs with continuous awareness of the person to whom the communication is directed. Obviously this is all but impossible when the recipient person is not present, when the person is on the other end of an e-mail or a tweet or some other detached communication where the parties are not able to be attentive to one another in the moment.

This situation has led many people who engage in these convenient but disconnected exchanges to communicate only about relatively unimportant issues, although occasionally of course quite important information does get exchanged. But important content is often lost in a sea of superficial, "oh it doesn't matter; I'm just playing around here" messaging, so much so that when something important needs to be communicated or, more importantly, something important needs to be negotiated, people are today a little rusty, their communication skills are a little rusty.

So what do we do? We look at our TV dramas for how to negotiate. And what they show us is drama, violence, and tension, and not often the open sincerity that permits a respectful encounter.

Instead we witness every day a flood of media-distributed commentary and communications from public voices talking that us. Even that phrasing -- talking at us -- describes why respect in the public areana is so often elusive, why snarkiness or provocation fill public communications. Certainly part of why respect has been crowded out of many communications today is a need to get people's attention. So many public communicators today choose "splash" over respect because being provocative, being outrageous, gets people's attention. Basically respect is too soft, too delicate, to get people's attention in today's clamor. Yet, as the program's speakers noted, what is needed in many of the most important transactions today is respect.

( see part II)

February 19, 2013 at 2:11 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

SDG&E's Controversial Power Shut-Off Plan

Amid all the outcry about SDG&E turning off the power just when it might be essential, few voices (except one supervisor/councilmember?) are bringing up the issue of fixing those supposedly dangerous lines. The utility has no trouble spending 1/2 billion dollars to burned-out home owners. That's a lot of money that might have been invested in fixing those dangerous lines.

A moment of thinking about those lines brings up the point that even if there are badly maintained lines somewhere in the county, they aren't everywhere. Further, the spots where lines are most at risk of damage and starting a fire certainly are also in specific areas -- certain windy valleys, certain areas where lines are old. It seems quite likely that for a relatively few dollars, at least when measured against 1/2 billion payout, the utility could identify the lines that are most problematic and install separators and other accessories that would greatly lessen them sparking into a fire.

Strangely we hear nothing of such efforts. It seems it's cheaper -- and less demanding of utility administrators' time or interest, their rhetoric notwithstanding -- simply for them to pay some insurance premiums to protect their business from lawsuits -- the cost of which they can pass on to customers -- and then in addition impose on the customers the "shut it all down" solution, whereupon, with the next wind and fire, they can say: we did our part -- too bad you won't be able to use pumps to fight a fire; too bad your communication systems will be dead without power. Not our problem.

This may be just another sign that certain public services (another is health care?) are not necessarily administered in a way that best serves the public's interests. As society has defined its relationship to the utilities now, companies like SDG&E are essentially immune to public pressure. Efforts using the media to shame them into dealing with this problem differently hardly ruffles their feathers. When the fires start burning again, remember: we created this situation. And it seems the California Public Utilities Commission no more powerful than the public. Alas.

July 31, 2009 at 11:08 a.m. ( | suggest removal )