Let's see where civility takes us

February 21, 2011|By DAVID HANLIN
  • David Hanlin
David Hanlin

I welcome this opportunity to be a guest columnist with The Herald-Mail. It is an honor to be able to follow in the long tradition of American essayists.    

I moved to Hagerstown more than 20 years ago. My children attended and graduated from public schools here. I have been involved in church life; youth sports; volunteered with many nonprofit organizations; have managed a couple of businesses, including starting my own; been appointed to serve on a number of government boards; benefited from good economic times; and suffered through terrible economic times.  I have been self-employed for 15 years and currently work for Washington County Free Library as development coordinator. I serve on the boards of Leadership Washington County and the Rotary Club of Hagerstown. My wife, Donna, is an assistant superintendent with Washington County Public Schools.

The Herald-Mail has extended to me a unique opportunity to explore important issues. I am not a humorist, a relationship expert or personal financial adviser, so I will primarily write about politics and government. Unlike some readers, I don’t despise government. Government is what helps tie our society and our culture together. We, the people, give it the responsibility to protect us from our enemies, build roads, educate most of our citizens, make business and employment possible, and provide a safety net for other citizens. So, I reject opinions that want to cut spending and reduce taxes no matter what.

I do despise government that no longer delivers value, is grossly inefficient or no longer achieves the intended goals.  The most recent financial crisis, coupled with huge mounting federal and state debt, indicates to me that we need new ways of doing things. I hope this forum can do just that ... help identify new ways of doing things that will deliver more value to the people, improve efficiency or better achieve goals.

My goal is to try to be somewhat middle-of-the-road, level-headed and thorough. There is already too much hot air in the universe of political speech. For example, you will not read me ranting on about Obama spending $200 billion for his trip to India. That whole idea was ridiculous. I hope to never fall into that trap.

On some issues, I might indulge and take up more than one column. Some topics are involved and complicated. To force the discussion into a single column would be a disservice to you, The Herald-Mail and me.  

But, I do hope to take a slightly different approach to this column. If you, the readers, think I am off base, uninformed or out of touch, I want you to tell me. I invite you to give feedback and challenge my opinions.  

As part of this new approach, I need your help. I will try to set a tone for political speech and one that I hope you will embrace. That tone is one of civility. Locally, we have bloggers; self-nominated columnists who write letters to the editor ad nauseum; Mail Callers; forum writers; and commenters or mini-bloggers to letters, articles and editorials at The Herald-Mail website. Some seem to have no concern about whether the content of what is written is insulting, inaccurate or otherwise uncivil. It is easy to be uncivil. These channels allow anonymity. After the recent tragedy in Tucson, we have frequently heard that “words have consequences.” Consequences apply to words that are spoken or written.

Civil speech starts with the simple idea that the best way to be respected and given full credit for your ideas is to take responsibility for your words. The easiest way to start to be civil is to not be insulting, threatening or demeaning. The most powerful way to accept responsibility for your words is to use your name. Anonymity suggests that you have said or written something of which you are ashamed or have a hidden agenda.  

The lack of commitment to facts and doing any research before engaging in political speech is also disturbing. Outright falsehoods and misrepresentation of facts, like the $200 billion trip to India, need to be challenged.  

If your response is civil, I will pay attention to differing points of view. If you have your facts correct and understand the underlying principles, I will respect the opinions you offer. If you have a great idea, I will acknowledge it, and perhaps write about it. If you have a great idea, you can bet that I will think about it, investigate it and, if warranted, praise it. You will be credited with great ideas or insights unless you request anonymity. But, don’t waste my time by being uncivil or by not having correct facts. I will certainly try to not waste yours. I hope my future columns are substantive and meaningful.

Please join me as we use this space to explore new ideas to make our community a better place. Stayed tuned to this experiment, be civil and let’s see where it takes us.

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