Awakening the Silent Majority
In working with schools and communities throughout much of my career, I have been blessed to have observed thousands of caring and concerned citizens, many of whom had been sitting on the sidelines unaware of what was happening, successfully tackling serious challenges facing their schools. What has impressed me the most about them is their positive approach in meeting these challenges. In most instances, they have taken the high road in discussing what often have been divisive topics, such as school tax issues. Instead of ignoring or demeaning the opinions of others who may have disagreed with them, they have been honest, forthright, and respectful. This is in stark contrast to the loud, confrontational, and what-is-in-it-for-me voice which dominates much of our political discourse today. Over the past twenty-five years, I have observed dozens of conversations in which citizens with differing opinions were actually listening to one another and valuing one another’s feelings and point of view. What’s more, many of the people who participated in those conversations had never done anything like this before. They were friends, neighbors, work associates, and relatives who had been asked to attend a coffee discussion or community meeting. I can’t tell how many times I have heard citizens remark at the conclusion of a coffee discussion or community meeting that they had been losing confidence that citizens like themselves could meet like this and have an honest, open, and respectful conversation. They would then add that the past hour and a half had restored their faith in both their community and in one another. In painting this rosy picture of the American people, I am certainly not implying that these kinds of productive, give-and-take discussions are occurring in most school districts today or even have occurred in every school district in which I have worked. However, they have occurred enough of the time for me to learn that something extraordinarily positive and pure happens when a community is able to escape the hold that politics has on its psyche and tap into the heart and soul of its citizens. It is almost magical.