Learning to get along

Published 8:18 pm Saturday, November 7, 2015

Members of the Suffolk City Council spent much of Thursday and Friday trying to figure out how to get along with each other and move beyond individual differences and personality styles to achieve better government.

Whether the effort that was put into two days of communications counseling and personality assessments will make much difference in the long run is a moot point that will finally be settled as future council meetings unfold.

It can’t be a bad thing for folks who are elected to work together to improve the city to actually learn how damaging it can be to that effort for one or more parties to engage in attempts to undermine and denigrate the others. Backbiting and clique protection have been unfortunate hallmarks of Suffolk City Council in the past, and some of the worst decisions in the city’s recent history have resulted from that kind of approach to governing.

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So an effort to help council members put away the long knives and extend their hands in friendship is laudable. A little more listening to one another might result in a little more listening to voters, too, and the entire city would benefit from that change.

We’re all called to love one another, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re supposed to cooperate with each other. To use an obviously extreme example, we can love a family member who is a known thief without turning our backs, closing our eyes and counting to 100 while he roams through the house alone.

Sometimes love means not giving in to what’s wrong, whether it’s the criminal proclivities of an errant uncle, bad municipal planning by an elected body or egocentric decision-making by individual elected officials.

Sometimes — and perhaps often in the case of principled government — showing respect for one another actually means standing up to one another, refusing to back down from what we know is right and just.

If all of the disagreements on council had been so high-minded, of course, there’d have been no reason for this week’s granola love-in. Reasonable people, after all, recognize there are times when world views contend against each other, and compromising in such situations would violate deeply held principles.

Much of the conflict on the Suffolk council, however, has appeared to be less principled than personal. If members learned lessons this week about how detrimental such personal conflicts can be to good government, then it will all have been worthwhile.

Time will surely tell.