Link to Owner Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr.

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Having a strongly held opinion does not give anyone the right to take over any forum. The louder, more bombastic and emotional you become, the less likely people are to continue listening

Recently I have been trying to make sense of our fair city's politics. "Good Luck!" you might say, and darned right.

Last week, my 86-year-old father and I attended a neighborhood association meeting, expecting to hear more about current city ballot measures, among other neighborhood news.

Instead, we got a lesson in poor behavior. Our concern about what we saw prompted us to conclude that one thing we need more of in West Linn politics is civil discourse.

I am not writing in support or opposition of any particular measure. My purpose is to make a simple request to those attending neighborhood meetings and other forums of discussion: listen more than you talk, present facts in simple understandable language and be brief and respectful of others and of time constraints. Also known as civil discourse.

At the neighborhood association meeting we attended, there were guests, some from that neighborhood some not, who came to present their positions either for or against a measure.

The protocol was that each side would present a 5-minute explanation and then entertain questions, briefly. The resulting debate, participated in mainly by the two opposing factions, with very little non-presenter neighborhood member contributions, ate up the entire remainder of the meeting, causing the rest of the agenda to be tabled until next month.

The only two neighborhood audience member interjections that stand out in my mind was one very astute request: to "put that in kindergarten-level terms" which didn't happen and when the debate had devolved to actual bickering and talking over one another, a neighbor protested that this had become a debate not a Q&A and asked them to stop taking over the meeting so that there could be time left for the rest of the agenda, which also didn't happen.

In fact, while we attempted to at least get through the time-sensitive announcements, two of the opposing individuals continued to debate each other loudly, despite repeated attempts on the part of the board and audience asking them to stop talking or go outside, neither of which happened.

My dad and I both were disappointed by this display. We agree that it is important to have public discussion on issues and that there will be some impassioned rhetoric.

However, having a strongly held opinion does not give anyone the right to take over any forum. The louder, more bombastic and emotional you become, the less likely people are to continue listening.

Complicated and overly wordy explanations are equally off-putting. Our role as voters is to be informed and make careful decisions based on logic.

Your role as campaigners is to present facts and step back so we can make up our own minds. The tendency toward petty bickering and personal attacks doesn't serve to further better understanding or civil discourse.

We must be allowed to ask ourselves: Is an argument based on fact or an emotional appeal? Is the presenter using easily verifiable facts, objective third-party evaluations and helpful historical information? Is there room for discussion and respectful exchange of opinions? Is there an absence of personal agendas and personal attacks?

These are the hallmarks of civil discourse. Anything less should not be welcomed or tolerated.

Mary Baumgardner and Bob Bayly live in the Willamette neighborhood.


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