Submitted by Neoma Jardon, Reno City Council, Ward 5
Over the past several years, but particularly throughout the course of 2020, I’ve observed that these are some of the most politically fractious times that I can remember.
Everywhere I look, there’s another argument unfolding. They play out on network television news, in online comment sections, in the hallowed halls of our government and, sadly in many of our own homes. The talk is often vitriolic, enough to permanently destabilize relationships and render us deaf to inarguably important discussions about how we move forward. There’s so much that needs to be done, but it often feels impossible to focus on that amid all the backbiting, finger-pointing, cynicism and noise.
There’s nothing wrong with public debate, and certainly it is a good thing that we don’t always agree. The fact that we don’t fall easily into lock-step on every issue can be a positive factor that spurs innovation, contributes to a diversity of views, and helps us to arrive at remarkable solutions that could not come about in an echo chamber.
But there comes a time when we have to stop and ask ourselves: what is it that we’re really doing? What is it that we are actually accomplishing as we spend our hours rattling sabers and fighting ourselves into a state of perpetual deadlock? How many problems are not being solved in the rush to the podium to talk trash about the other person or party?
What opportunities are we losing out on as we expend precious time and energy battling one another instead of finding common ground, collaborating, and working meaningfully toward solutions that positively impact people’s lives?
What have we lost as we have let the perfection of our private imaginations stand as the enemy of real good in the shared spaces of our public life?
Crises aren’t courteous. They don’t stop and wait for us to work out our squabbles toward the “perfect” solution… and in public life, “perfect” is an elusive, intangible mirage that is forever out of our reach. It varies from one viewpoint to the next, and is a perpetually moving goal-post rarely to be achieved at all.
That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t argue—or that passive agreement should be the order of the day. Arguments, after all, are in many ways the basis of our judicial system, and anyone who has ever written to persuade knows that much of their success hinges upon the strength of their foundational argument.
But arguments alone aren’t what move the needle toward solutions. Empathy, compassion, flexibility and civility. Without these, even the strongest of arguments may find themselves muddled—dead on arrival, because the heart of our message has been tainted by overly critical, harsh or abusive language.
As I navigate and negotiate challenging problems in search of smart, impactful solutions, I remind myself of a favorite Maya Angelou quote of mine:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Keeping this idea in mind has been critical to my success in working with people from all walks of life in our community toward making Reno a safer, happier place to live. It’s helped me to work with my colleagues in government—even those with whom I disagree about how to proceed in managing issues in housing, public safety and our financial responsibilities—in a spirit of collegiality and collaboration that has allowed us to get things done for the people of the Biggest Little City.
It’s that same spirit of collegiality, compassion and compromise that I would ask that each of us work to observe in the coming days. There is no shortage of problems to be worked out on our docket, and it would be foolish to imagine that further complications await us on the horizon. What will make all the difference in our ability to address the challenges ahead of us will be our capacity to work together—to find common purpose and to build coalitions toward unified actions.
There are many inroads to be made in that direction, but I think it starts with a simple choice we make each day: choose positive intentions, compassion, and openness. Eagerly cultivate your capacity to listen, to share and establish common ground. Seek out opportunities to mend fences and, more importantly, to build bridges.
If we can find it in our hearts to do just that, we’ll have made significant strides toward a better tomorrow.
Neoma Jardon is a Reno City Councilmember representing Ward 5 an area of Northwest Reno that includes the Old Northwest, University of Nevada, Somersett and Verdi neighborhoods as well as parts of downtown Reno. She was first elected to council in 2012 and again in 2016.
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