Crazy

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That’s what it is. Just plain crazy.

We are inhabiting a world where common manners, taught to you by your parents have become reviled as political correctness. Where civility is perceived as weakness. Where the decibel level of your statement is seen as the value of your ideas.

As parents we teach our children to be polite, respect others and not call each other names. Our teachers try to instill the basic rules of how to get along with others. Then it all heads south in a hand basket in the adult world.

We can debate how we got here and whether this is a trickle down effect from national politics or a grassroots effect that has worked its way up to the national level, but the fact remains that on all levels of public discourse, we’ve sunk to a new low.

A guy holding a protest sign at a campaign rally gets beat up. Hecklers have become the norm at any public venue. Road rage is rampant. Bullying is common from elementary school to boardrooms. And the early adopters of incivility – talk shows – continue happily shouting at each other and changing exactly no one’s opinion.

Public discourse used to be about persuading others to consider your viewpoint on a subject. Possibly introducing discussion points that had not been considered previously.

Now it’s all about making points, insulting the opposition and proving your own overwhelming intellectual superiority. And we’ve all tuned out as a result. The give and take of political discourse has become an exercise of “preaching to the choir” – telling those who already agree with you only those things they want to hear. Too many people only interact with people who agree with them. And then become convinced that “everyone” thinks like they do and only crackpots would think differently, when actually their friends, neighbors and family members who might disagree have learned to say nothing rather than endure a high-decibel barrage of talking points and condescension.

Newsflash – no matter the topic, everyone does not agree with you, ever.

Here on our nice little island we are not immune from this trend. The downtown redevelopment proposal has everyone talking. That’s good. There’s a lot to talk about and sort out.

Unfortunately, some of that talk includes unfair allegations about how this is a done deal or a backroom deal or somebody in office is making money on this and that’s why it will be approved or has been already. Unproven accusations are flying and it’s unfair and wrong.

We like to say that we treat each other like family here on our friendly Island. If the reception offered to speakers at Monday’s meeting on the downtown proposal is any guide, we should reconsider the truth of that statement.

Imagine that you’ve never been to any event in Fort Myers Beach and that was your first. What message did you take home about Islanders? Speakers were not allowed to speak. They were booed and shouted down. Some will say that behavior is as American as apple pie. I disagree – in America all opinions are welcome and when you prevent anyone else from speaking in a public setting like that, it’s not American dissent – it’s just plain rude.

Everybody, even those we don’t agree with, has the right to be heard. We see it at town meetings when mumbled comments or outright booing is heard and interferes with those speaking. Yet those same people would be appalled if they were not allowed to speak uninterrupted when their turn came. Remember the Golden Rule?

Everyone associated with the project has welcomed discussion and promised plenty of opportunity for comments, suggested changes, new ideas, etc. The developers, the Mayor of Fort Myers Beach, the Chairman of the Lee County Commission – they have all said this proposed concept will work its way through the usual process of any development – and it hasn’t even started yet. No plans have been submitted to Town Hall or Lee County. Our Town’s Principal Planner hasn’t seen anything yet. We’re pretty sure that when plans are submitted for the approval process, they’ll hit his desk first.

Unfortunately, while all this finger pointing is going on, some residents are missing a chance to provide input now, before the concept is even presented to the Town and County for approval. How often does the public get the chance to weigh in on a plan this early? Just about never. Normally a developer submits a plan and the public gets a look during public hearings. This developer is opening up this concept for comment before that process begins.

Want the height lower? Want wider beach accesses? How about a Key West architectural look?

Want the park to stay? Can it be smaller or in a different location? What amenities should a public park have?

These are all topics open to discussion. Now. Sure there will be opportunities later on in public hearings and we encourage public input at every opportunity, but there is one right now that seems to be drowned out by all the shouting.

How about we remember that we’re all Islanders and all deserve an equal chance to have our voices heard? The loudest protester’s shouted opinion is no more valuable than the quiet voice that hesitantly stands to speak during public comment. That is America.

Missy Layfield