The following article is an opinion piece and reflects the views of only the author and not those of The Georgia Virtue.
This week has echoed why I prefer covering local (and, in small increments, state) politics. I can’t stand the national scene, the rhetoric, the hysteria and as odd as it sounds, public corruption is peaceful because stories are free of partisanship. The headlines are atrocious enough to get people’s attention without the prerequisite “Where is my team on this one?”
When I’m asked to visit a new town or begin a new investigative story, I ask myself 2 things:
Why am I doing this?
Is the desired outcome an improvement from the current situation?
This standard came into play when I was investigating the City of Oak Park a few years ago. One of my sources, after sharing a boatload of information, said “Now what?” When I said that it was my belief that everything should be published for public consumption, he said, “I’m afraid that after you torch the place with this information, no one will want to serve the community.”
Admittedly, his point was something I had not considered. It wasn’t about going easy on them, lobbing softballs, or leaving out information. It was about having an end goal and staying forward facing. Of course, we cannot predict outcomes, but in a small town where the issues stemmed from an identifiable source, it was enough for me to promise to stick around and continue my coverage until enough pieces were put back together after the blaze. Basically, wait for the sunrise before I head out.
I feel sure the person who asked me that question three years ago had no idea the impact or the amount of self-reflection it would yield, but it was a blessing of a lesson in a guiding principle: we must always act – and SPEAK – with purpose.
For months now, but this week in particular, I have watched people banter in a tone that is so awful and unproductive that I sometimes can’t even identify a cause. More troubling, there isn’t a single person that I love or respect that I would ask to run for public office in these times. That hesitation doesn’t have anything to do with violence or unsettled movements, either. It’s wholly rooted in the idea that too many people are yelling ‘fire!’ in the kitchen but no one will even reach for the fire extinguisher. Instead, everyone is screaming about how ‘fire!’ should have been shouted, when it should have been shouted instead, who shouted it first, and so on. It’s enough to make any reasonable person feel like they’re the looney one because as everyone argues, the kitchen is still on fire and there is no plan to put it out.
To the extent of what we are seeing unfold in the political arena, what good is turnover if the next person doesn’t understand what happened? How helpful is a fresh set of ideas if the ideas are coming from someone fueled by anger? What is the point of spending all of this time being absolutely livid if nothing actually changes?
Don’t mistake this piece as finger pointing from a high horse. We all fail at times and must take a step back, myself included. It takes all of one finger scroll on my own social media accounts to know that I am the government’s greatest critic and cynic, and there are elected officials whose mere presence puts my resting BP closer to 180/120. But most of us have more to offer than hurled insults and an around-the-clock ability (or willingness!) to make others mad. Worst of all, the person who is actually losing out on precious, valuable time is you.
Everything that is happening right now is very important. It should be watched closely, well understood, and met with a plan, be that for the next election cycle or for the interim. But it won’t be enough to bookend with ‘What do I want to accomplish and why?” Solutions to problems should be followed with “What do I plan to do after I obtain the desired outcome?” If you’re successful, you’ll have much to celebrate. If you’re not, you’ll at least have the ability to say you didn’t make the situation worse.
It’s true that not all who wander are lost, but there’s a reason they say ‘a fool wonders while a wise man asks.’