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Wednesday, December 25, 2013


I've been carrying my camera everywhere, just like usual, and interacting with people, seeing stuff, doing things, but that hasn't translated into posts in Lobsterland lately. I find myself at Christmas with photos from the middle of November I haven't even sorted out.

Fortunately, I get paid the same whether I keep my normal, obsessively chronological and up-to-date form up or if I blow it off completely. Unfortunately, I really enjoy this strange form of journaling. Blogging is like keeping a diary and leaving it open on coffee tables at the homes of friends and relatives when they're having parties.

Anyway, Corinna won this Civility Award from Consensus KC, in large part for managing to stay civil and engaged on a big project staffed mostly by people you'd have to describe as, uh, adversaries. Maybe not by intent, but as a mental health survivor, someone who considers surviving the treatment a bigger deal than surviving the illness, a roundtable of shrinks isn't in the comfort zone. Then, with only one or two allies in the room, get that roundtable to go for a series of ideas that don't assume that the best starting place for addressing mental health issues is to just ask those shrinks what they want to do.

It took a lot out of her, but the Consensus event on mental health was fundamentally different from how it would have been otherwise (and I'm sure markedly different from the other editions that went on around the country). It wasn't without advocates for forced medication or those people who basically see the problem with mental health being all these crazy people, but the psychiatric survivors at least got their say.

The award was no small beer. The other recipients included Al Brooks, Steve Roling, the Roeland Park mayor and council, and Airick Leonard West.

Roling's speech included a great tale of civility, wherein he was an aid to Senator Tom Eagleton, very green and wet behind the ears, sent to try and get another Senator, Hubert Humphrey, to accept an amendment to a bill that Eagleton knew Humphrey wouldn't like. Roling described being so tongue-tied when he got to Humphrey that he couldn't even get his name out at first. Humphrey coaxed this information out of him, along with what he'd been sent for, no doubt taking a lot more time than he would have budgeted to talk to a junior aid for another Senator. He then explained that he didn't think much of this amendment, and that Eagleton no doubt knew that, but that he would accept it as long as Roling went back and reported that it had been accepted specifically because of Roling's persuasiveness.

When Roling got back to his boss, Humphrey had already called him and done the whole spiel about how the kid had won him over and that Humphrey would be glad to hire him if Roling ever needed a job and so on. And Eagleton told his young aid, 'That's how we treat people in the United States Senate—don't you forget it.'

That phrase caught me: I was like, is he talking about the same United States Senate? These aren't Senators from rival parties, they were both Democrats, and I don't know what the nature of the amendment was, how big a deal it was or wasn't to include. No doubt, I would take a dim view of whatever it was if I knew those details, and I probably wouldn't like the bill the amendment was tacked onto either, but I was impressed by the level of collegiality this illustrated. I think history has demonstrated that when politicians get too cuddly this way, really terrible things happen, but it's also apparent to me that today's Senate is more like an environment where you have your uncle executed for not clapping enthusiastically enough.

Alright, that's an extreme comparison. No matter what my wife says there are governments far worse than America's. You can prove it just by arguing with me on this point. We imprison an awful lot of people (many for lousy reasons and a few without due process), but we don't lock up punk bands who make fun of our President. As Lenny Bruce pointed out, Rome was a fine democracy unless you were a Christian, in which case you got fed to lions—'as rough as segregation gets.' Wow, did I just digress or what?

Sorry for getting bogged down in apologies for the homeland and the moral relativism of repression. Forgive me? Good, isn't that civil of you?

The other award winners were a big deal, too, including Corinna. And I had fun stalking all these luminaries with my camera. Alvin Brooks, I remember him from my early childhood with his work with the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime. Talk about a long memory—he spoke of conspiring with a white friend to cheat the segregated lunch counters at Katz when he was a kid. He'd give the white friend the money for the food, then see how many bites he could sneak off a plate that wasn't technically served to him before management ran him off. I guess making a game of it is a pretty good weapon to fight with, especially when you're a kid and don't have a lot of better options. I tend to think of segregation (not defacto but the real, tangible, posted on a sign kind) as almost prehistoric. Like the Civil War, the Enlightenment, the American Revolution, Napoleonic Wars, Shakespeare, etc., the kind of stuff that nobody who's alive had direct experience of.

Arrick Leonard West impressed me too, in no small part because he let Steve Roling try on his Google Glass, but even more so because he wouldn't let them honor just him and not the rest of the school board. He just took the mic and made them come up and accept with him. He's got a tall order fixing, from what I can tell, a world class dysfunctional school district. There are probably worse situations in public education, but I bet you'd have to go someplace like Detroit to find them. Charismatic, smart, diplomatic, if there's anyone capable of bringing real solutions and real improvement to bear, I can't imagine who would be a better candidate for the job.

It's tricky bringing that ideas man thing together with that compromise-and-implement man. The two are probably never found in one person, not even Mr. West, but he seems to be someone who can at least get them to shake hands.

The Roeland Park City Council surprised me just because I think of that as a sleepy suburb. I have a good friend who's a cop there, been on ride-along with him a couple of times. It's a nice place to live but I wouldn't want to visit there, right? But apparently the impending closure of their Wal-Mart created a series of crises that rocked that city's leadership to the core. And where it could have ended up all hard feelings and fisticuffs, with a handful of naysayers bringing everything to a halt, they managed to pull things together and figure stuff out...civilly.

It sounds so insignificant, civility. I don't know, when I think about some of my worse experiences in life, civility was definitely absent from a lot of them. Not all of them, I was very civilly fired from a good job without just cause one time, five days before Christmas too, and there are probably other examples. But when I have lose civility or the people around me (or both) do, it always ends badly.

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