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Letter: Disagreement shouldn’t mean disrespect

"Let’s get back to an informed and healthy debate which includes different perspectives."

Dear Editor:

If you or your project has been called idiotic, a loser, crooked, criminal, sleazy, shady or on the take then the chances are you have been a target of a personal attack and disrespected. If it happens frequently, or comes from a significant group of people, it can cause outsiders to form negative opinions of those who make such attacks or of the town they come from – potentially causing future investors to approach that town with caution. Let’s not go that route in Hinton.

It seems that having a discussion about public policy based on the premise that the other person may be well-meaning but factually mistaken or just have a different opinion has increasingly been replaced, in Canada, around the world and even in our town, by vitriolic attacks on the premise that the other person is morally rotten not misinformed or mistaken. Personalizing a discussion by attacking someone’s character or personal associations, rather than evaluating the soundness and validity of the argument they present, is not constructive.

Often personal attacks are combined with legitimate arguments in the same discussion, especially on matters where people feel very strongly. But this approach is problematic because the insults make it difficult even for people of good will to continue an earnest conversation focused on one another’s legitimate points or the issues. It’s too easy to get defensive once anyone in the debate has called you an idiot or worse.

There’s not much any of us can do about other people’s manners. But there’s one thing many of us can do. Make sure we ourselves engage in respectful dialogue before, during and after any decisions are made, and be as critical as we think necessary of people’s arguments while remaining generous and polite about their motives.

It’s especially hard in the heat of the moment. But remember that individuals are usually judged when times are tough not good. Anyone can behave well in good times.

Let’s get back to an informed and healthy debate which includes different perspectives. This is important to our democracy to be free from personal attacks. If we all hold to this standard, it will be much easier to see talented people stepping forward to run for elected leadership in our community and country.

In the end, aren’t we all just neighbours and friends who can chat respectively and constructively?

Regards, Stuart Taylor, Member of Hinton Council.

PS: The ideas in this letter reflect only those of the author.

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