• Spartan Considerations

Choosing Responsibility

While I left Michigan 24 years ago, I still retain a number of “Midwestern Nice” habits – uttering “Ope” as I narrowly avoid a shopping cart collision while rounding a grocery store aisle, saying “sorry” nearly as often as an average Canadian, etc…

Such courtesies do not automatically extend to political argumentation, as some might have noticed.

When I moved to the greater DC area, I noticed that folks in these parts tended to be less direct conversationally, oft employing circumlocutions that left their precise sentiments vague. This might have been a function of the industry in which I labored. In any event, I found such verbal (and written) formulations grating. “For God’s sake, just tell me what you really mean!” is what they would have heard, if we were both telepaths. The level of artifice seemed high, and that feeling did not abate when I moved to Howard County, MD.

Turning to the present day, we have citizens who wish to engage with elected officials. That is fine. Sometimes, when doing so, they are not always exhibiting what one might call "proper etiquette." That happens (yours truly having expressed myself less than 100% tactfully, from time to time).

However, especially in the present day, when you have self-described “very informed stakeholders” 1) reaching out via text message to the personal cell phones of public officials, 2) refusing to identify themselves after being asked to do so, and 3) being vaguely menacing, these behaviors cross a line. First, from the point-of-view of the text sender, you are weakening your message and making yourself appear to be some kind of potential stalker (which is very bad form). Second and more importantly, from the perspective of the message recipient, a reasonable person would feel threatened (“you know me”..."get over yourself"). Bearing in mind what is going on in the United States and further considering the fact that the message recipient is an elected official who is a progressive woman of color, it is not unreasonable for said recipient to be concerned for her welfare and the well-being of her family based on the tone and content of the received text messages.

Had the sender chosen to be direct and identify themselves, by name, that would have helped prevent an intense cloud of intimidation from gathering. Had this person asked, “Oh, is there a better way for me to get in touch with you?” after being informed that they were contacting this elected official on their personal phone, that would have demonstrated an open-ness to being fair-minded. Had they not articulated the ominous “you know me” and the dismissive “get over yourself,” it would have shown a willingness to engage in a real dialogue instead of angrily at-times ALL CAPS monologuing.

Now, I do not know the intent of the message sender. She or he might not have intended to harass the message recipient. However, what is important is the impact, and the impact clearly was one where the elected official felt harassed by some anonymous person…who knew her personal phone number. That is very troubling and understandably disconcerting.

Apparently, civility might be a bar too high in these troubled times, but if you are going to be a jerk, at least take ownership of it and have the decency to raise your hand and say “Yeah, it’s me who is saying this.” Hiding in the digital darkness just makes one a coward.

Politics can be rough, but there are still rules. Signing your name (at the very least a well-known nom de plume) is one of them. Sam Seaborn reminds us of this:

In solidarity.

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