Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Disappointment & redress

I've received a couple of responses to my last blog and because the language was pretty strong, I've chosen not to post the comments. (I'm cautious about libel and slander as the moderator of this site.)

But I think it's important to acknowledge the points raised. Let me summarize the comments by saying that some people expressed deep disappointment in both the MLA comments AND my reaction to them. People felt that I should have been more vocal in my opposition and that my failure to be clearly and unequivocally damning was, in fact, tacit approval.

That's not how I see it, but I respect those views.

During the Klein years, I was a regular contributor to CBC Radio. I wrote satirical, cutting pieces about the government and the politicians of the day. I didn't pull any punches and was completely free to say whatever I wanted. Looking back, I was often pretty harsh...funny (I hope), but harsh. I was also blessed with the gift of distance: I never had to look those politicians in the eye after writing a piece about them.

Now, as an elected official, the rules are a little different. I am obligated to tread more carefully, to choose my words, to consider points of view other than my own, to act with restraint and try to give a measured response. My comments reflect upon a large entity (public education); I am bound to the public and I am but one member of a board, with obligations and duties to my fellow trustees. In my blog, I read and reread my entries to make sure I am being as clear and as fair as I can be. It's not easy and of course, I often fail to hit just the right tone. It's inevitable, really, that almost anything I say will miss the mark for someone: too far this way, not far enough that way. I'm sure many within EPSB would prefer that I not walk this tight-rope every week. They are anxious, waiting for me to fall and wishing that I would just come down. I persist because I think communication is so important and I believe that it's critical to try, even if I know it won't be perfect.

I agree that politicians are responsible to the public and that if their views are objectionable they should be held to account. Accountability looks different to different people: some want a resignation, some are okay with an apology, some want to see evidence of "the lesson learned", others are content to leave the come-uppance to election time.

One person didn't like the focus of my blog--- on social media--- and felt that I missed the point. He felt it didn't matter WHERE it was said, it was WHAT was said that counted. Of course, this makes perfect sense, but I guess my point was that the rules of engagement are changing and the public seems to want both unprocessed messaging/openness AND impeccable statesmanship. It's an impossible mix. (Even 'the king' falters: witness Obama's Special Olympics gaff.)

So how can we exchange ideas, bring them into the public light, have others look at them and give feedback...if we are censored by fear? We must have the courage as a society to hear the objectionable. Freedom of speech is not just about protecting "nice speech", it's about protecting all speech.

This, I know, leads us into some scary waters and, with children in particular, we need to be ever-vigilant. Let me be clear: I don't want any children to be subjected to hate speech, to racist speech, to sexist speech, to homophobic speech. I personally feel this is wrong, whether it's coming from a parent, a teacher, a politician, a camp leader... or any adult for that matter.

If those who posted would like to continue this conversation via email, I am happy to do so. (sue.huff@epsb.ca)

3 comments:

Mike said...

Sue;
The rules of engagement I don't think have changed. Technology has changed and therefore the way we communicate has changed. But the rules are in many ways exactly the same.
People have wanted to know what's up with their political representative since the first ballots were cast. Heck the whole suffragette movement was a grassroots effort that relied on you to convince 2 friends, and they'll tell 2 friends and so on. And when the old boys club shut them out, suffragettes rallied and demanded action and answers.
Kinda like social media but without the tools.
You aren't the only one focusing on the social media aspect of what Elniski said and I suspect it is because social media is still an odd duck to a lot of people. The issue isn't whether he should be afraid to speak his mind. The issue is what is on his mind. In many ways he has got a free skate on this because of the social media fuss and his odd little apology.

I remember your CBC pieces and probably produced a few of them. If people complained about the pieces or called in objecting to the point of view we never started talking about the technology of radio. We never suggested that radio is so pervasive that every single person with a radio in a hundred mile radius can now listen to what you have to say.
We addressed the content.
That is the only issue.
If Doug had said this in front of a TV camera would you be writing about the immediacy of live TV?

Cheers,
Mike

Christopher Spencer said...

Mike's comments bring to mind the great communications debate of the late twentieth century. Is content king? Or is the medium the message?
Twitter is intended to be slight and disarming, a way of thinking out loud. Most thoughts people have are incredibly stupid, which is why we filter our ideas before expressing them. Social media is emerging as a form of hyper-communication, with very little self-editing. It requires a measure of forgiveness larger than, for example, scripted radio comedy.
A few spontaneous bad jokes, impetuously added to a blog or Twitter feed, followed up by a sheepish apology, is either not enough information or too much information to make a useful judgment of someone's character.
Overall, I think the humanization of politicians will have a positive impact on government at all levels. Imperfection is something everyone can achieve. The gap between leader and follower, between representative and constituent, has been cavernous.
If openness is desirable, it has to be accompanied by a spirit of forgiveness. More people are going to publish stupid things they'll regret 30 seconds later. More attempts at humour will fall flat -- like Sue's chest.
(Um -- get it? Why aren't people laughing?)

Yvon said...

Keep on blogging Sue. My kids go to Youngstown School and you have been a breath of fresh air that was sorely needed. I have gotten more information from your blog than I have the previous 5 years.