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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

How about some "Truth in Government" -- Silence DoGood

I’m pretty sure that many of you have heretofore not heard of the word ‘Parrhesia’.  It is ordinarily translated into English as free speech, and conjugations mean the one who speaks the truth.  Thus parrhesiastes is someone who says everything he has in mind; he does not hide anything, but opens his heart and mind completely to other people through his discourse. Within the meaning of parrhesia, the speaker is supposed to give a complete and exact account of what he has in mind so that the audience is able to comprehend exactly what the speaker thinks.  In parrhesia, the speaker makes it manifestly clear and obvious that what he says is his own opinion.  He does this by avoiding any kind of rhetorical form which would veil what he thinks. The parrhesiastes uses the most direct words and forms of expression he can find.  That a speaker says something dangerous – different from what the majority believes– is a strong indication that he is being truthful.

Why the Greco-Roman egghead academician beginnings?  Truth in Government, all the way back to the beginnings of our form of government.  Along with the origins of our language and the true meanings of the words we use.  Because, when you use the word “truth” today, it is almost always subjective to the speaker and quite often the audience and contextual in application.  The form of our government, a Republic, was conceived of in Greece and practiced there in its original forms.  The Greeks knew the proper relationships that should exist between the rulers and the citizens and as a result, you have the development of the word parrhesia.  You see that in essence, it calls for the speaker to be brave, say what they actually mean, and believe what they say.  In other words, ‘Plain and direct talk is easily understood.’  A not too often determined state of affairs in today’s world where everyone is guarded in what they say, and speak in veiled terms and mystical speech leaving the listener to presume to know or guess at meaning.  Parrhesiastes don’t have that problem since you will know immediately what is being said, that the speaker believes it, and that this is direct truth on their part.  There is no room left for implied meaning, the listener knows immediately what is being conveyed by the speaker in direction communication.

So here I go talking of yet another politician and political speaker shadowing the lines of propriety in order to advance their own agenda on the backs of a legitimate concern.  In this case, Morganton’s Mayor using a Public Service Announcement to proclaim his record and the endurance of his tenure in a campaign cycle.  The legitimate concern in this instance is the proposed closing of the School for the Deaf.

While the good Mayor is certainly not wrong in his assessment that closing that facility would be detrimental to Western North Carolina and the families that utilize and depend on that facility.  It would also depress the local economy even further and negatively impact the lives of thousands.  No where in there was there a need for the Mayor to identify himself as Mayor or to state how long he’d held that office.  Thus turning something that could have been a positive to something tainted apolitical.

In August 2009, the North Carolina General Assembly passed Session Law 2009-403 requiring, among other things that local governments adopt a code of ethics, adhere to all laws, and go through ethics training.  I don’t know about you, but I find this to be highly disturbing.  Not from the perspective that it is required, but that it has become necessary.  Across the spectrum of public service, bodies’ politic have decried that training is necessary and in many cases, required for public servants, appointed and elected alike, at all levels of government and that despite those efforts, failings occur.

The reason is that telling the truth is noticeably absent today.  It is absent from business and it is absent from politics and those that call themselves ‘leaders’.  And with believing and speaking the truth, without divisive or contraindicative intent, comes a frankness that is not heard today.  It is my contention that it goes without saying that before you enter into a position of public trust, you are either a moral and ethical person, or you’re not.  Simply mandating or requiring a ‘code’ of conduct or ethics will not make you a moral or ethical person.  Those things are all worthless unless the person comports themselves to the true and actual meanings of the words used and the person dedicates themselves to those premises.  Of course, that kind of conduct begins long before that person assumes the duties and roles of that office and unless that particular person has the solid foundations for the tenets found within those codes or canons of conduct, no amount of training can otherwise change the core of that person.  So we will perpetually encounter endless cases of honest mistakes being made and dealing with the frustrations of spin and damage control with regard to those that we have put full faith in and who consistently come up short of expectation.  And of course, being willing to speak the truth, you must also be willing to hear it.  But I contend that if you have the courage to speak it, you will likewise be receptive to hearing it.

How many times have these situations happened here locally?  More than we know I’m sure.  The most recent issues that come to mind are the just past Pride celebration, the debacle of the Airport operation and personal relationships between City officials and principals in the operator corporation, hiring practices within the City and promotions that appear to be based on religion and not performance.  The new ward map and how representatives are chosen has proven to be a point of contention since it denies representation of the people who live in that ward of their choice of representative, with the candidate being determined City wide, rather than in the ward itself.  The local print media hold themselves out to be mimics of the official line of what is being told and rarely engage in fact finding.  They are content with reporting only those facts they have been made benefactor of.  But how refreshing would that be, to hear a politician in Hickory or Catawba County say exactly what is on their mind and actually believe what they are saying.  Or as a component of that, the local media asking questions that counter that stance of the politician in order to clarify the point, to bring other points of view into the picture, and heaven forbid, actually serve to represent segments of the population that are wholly ignored or overlooked.

How long will we be accepting of ‘say one thing, do something else’ as a routinized course of everyday conduct?  Politicians are quite often forced to reconsider their positions on issues once they are elected or come into office. We shouldn’t be surprised by that happening when it does.  However, rational people check and then re-check the things they say when what they say or imply they will do impact and affect so many.  Those times should be the rare occasion rather than the normal occurrence.  That is rarely the case today when viewed against the standard of moral and ethical behavior.  If the good Mayor had weighed his actions and words against the standard of what was good for NCSD and the City of Morganton, then his message would have been worded differently.  But his message was weighted with what was good for him under the guise of getting something for nothing on the public’s nickel.

This is what I’ve written of before and why I’ve been so insistent on demanding accountability.  It is not acceptable that we take these feeble excuses for morally and ethically void behavior on our behalf.  It is time that those in office abide by the laws they are sworn to protect and uphold.  It is time they hold themselves to a higher standard and keep the bar high.  That starts with telling the truth, and that we believe the people that represent us are telling the truth and believe it.  Will they always succeed?  No.  But to strive constantly to do the right thing and be forthright in their communications with all of us is not too much to demand.  If they are incapable of doing that, then there is no shame in removing themselves from that position of trust.  That would speak volumes to their moral acuity than to be constantly deceptive in thought, word, and deed and then mouthing the words, “honest mistake” every time they’re caught.

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