I was faced with a choice—turn away or duck.
The small red pickup truck had backed out of its parking space with a squeal of tires, the driver oblivious to whoever had been unlucky enough to be in the path. Luckily there had been no one. Another squeal of tires accompanied the shift to drive. The truck came right toward me and turned hard left at the last second to make the turn for the exit. The shower of rocks and sand came at me and instinctively—perhaps the choice was not conscious—I ducked behind the electric range I was dropping off for recycling. I stood up to get a better look at the driver who, by now, was at the exit onto the main road. Once again he floored the accelerator while turning hard left and the pickup spun out of control in the intersection. Another shower of rocks came at me and, this time, my van. Again I ducked as rocks hit off the range and the van. I stood up one more time to see the driver execute one final 360 degree turn in the intersection, this time with no rocks, before speeding off.
It turned out he had just been fired and this is the way he chose to voice his displeasure. Clearly the roar of the engine, screech of tires and shower of debris was meant to say, “How dare they treat me this way! It’s not fair; I’m a good person; better than them! I’ll show them I’m better than that and not to be trifled with!”
We don’t always get to have a direct influence on the happenings in our world. We do, however get to affect the course of one life—our own. Yes, there’s always the element of chance; sometimes we win and sometimes we lose based on nothing more than pure luck or the whims of others who get to hold some power over us. Aside from that, what happens to us can be affected by choices we make.
Yes, there are the big ones: vehicle, house, education/training, career, and relationships, for example. The vast majority are much smaller, things like what to eat at any given time, how to respond to others or even what to do next. We don’t give them much thought. Rather than mull over each and every one we go with a combination of beliefs, values and patterns. We tend to do what we have always done and, failing that, what we have seen our parents, teachers and mentors do when faced with similar situations.
And it mostly works out fine, but not always—hence the howling of tires and hurling of rocks.
That was just a couple of days ago; the day that municipal elections were held throughout my province so the idea of choice was uppermost in my mind at the time. Who to vote for: the incumbents, many, but not all, of whom had performed admirable service to the community in the past or the new-comers, smiling and confidently espousing of the need for a fresh approach and for new ideas?
I, along with many, but by no means all, of my fellow NL’rs made my choices.
The election has come and gone, bringing with it the usual list of returns and upsets. Some new faces, some old, all of them with much work ahead.
And choices to make.
Running a municipality is never easy. The funding is limited—nobody wants to pay taxes—and the demands are many. Infrastructure is needy; always in need of upgrades, repairs. Roads, water and sewer consume huge amounts of money. Pensions too; we have retirees and, sadly, no invested funds from which to pay them. Just promises—the stuff of politics, not the stuff of a just society—but that’s perhaps for another time. There’s little left over, but so many demands.
In the end priorities have to be identified, goals set and plans made to meet them.
And, yes, when that is done those who do not get what they want will find ways of making the lives of the ones who serve much less pleasant for the duration of their term. When it comes to people who hold public office there’s no expectation, it seems, for anyone to play nice.
It makes you wonder why people choose to offer themselves for the job. Offhand here’s a likely few, listed below in decreasing order of likelihood:
- A sense of duty to the community;
- Expectations from others—family, friends or co-workers maybe;
- The need to find personal fulfillment through the enacting of public good;
- Greed—some, not many—have personal agendas that require them to influence public policy for their own benefit; (see note below.)
- The need to be in charge and to derive personal satisfaction by wielding power over others in the community. (Note: stories have been written about people like this. Fortunately I don’t know any personally.)
And so, around it all goes again. The veterans will exercise skills honed through years of service. The newcomers will bring enthusiasm and new ideas, sure, but mostly they will learn. Yes, they will learn the ropes; the ways in which municipal governments work. Mostly, though, they will, like the veterans before them, discover that it’s not about the fresh ideas and the new approach. They will learn that it is really about learning to put their egos—and their own ideas—aside and listening to the voices around them; the voices of their peers and, more importantly, the voices of those they represent.
Yes, choices have to be made. But no, they do not have the answers. At least not yet, regardless of how much they think they do.
The answers can be found, though. Each council has a huge amount of collective skill and wisdom. This, coupled with the ability to gather and make sense of the myriad voices of those they represent has the potential for enacting what needs to be done.
But only if, in the end, the choices made are based on what’s real.
As already stated we do get to set the course of our lives. We also get to construct the story of our lives; ideally one that is based in reality. The mind, though, can be a devious thing. It has a way of altering our memories to suit the choices that we have made. Whenever we make a decision that affects others negatively we find a way to justify it afterwards. We do this very well—so well that, after a while, the choice we made seems to have been the absolute best one. “They” deserved it. In the end, the facts be damned! This happens all the time. Those who do what is clearly and objectively wrong generally are not even aware of it. They have re-constructed the past, adding new details that never happened and omitting those that did. This matters nothing to them as their recollection is flawed.
This is because their story is not based on what is real.
For the past few days, I have been thinking of JP in the red pickup (I did a little investigating and found his identity as he damaged my van and almost damaged me). Doubtless his version of the story has added, fabricated, details of grave injustices done to him by his former employer. The story likely does not include running his truck at me and the two showers of rocks hurled at me and at my van. Most importantly, his altered version is likely the version he now believes is the true one.
We’re all wired up like that as kids and part of growing up is learning to separate what’s real from what’s not.
I wish all those newly elected to serve in our municipalities the very best. Please try to make it all about what’s for real. Leave your egos at the door. Keep your eyes and ears open.
The choices you make now are not just for you; they are for all of us.