Once a month, I cross Marion Road and enter Town Hall. Up a few steps and down the hall I go, arriving at the Clerk’s office to post the agenda for the library board meeting. If I need to file paperwork for a new member, I go up another set of stairs to the Selectmen’s office. Paperwork properly filed, I head back out the front doors and skip down the impressive but rarely used front steps. A right takes me back to town, a left toward Shaw’s market, an about face to the middle and high schools – at least three options every time I have business at Town Hall.
Sometimes, Town Hall comes to me – announcements, notifications, and emails. Last week, it was an email that marched into my computer, bringing with it an undeserved slap on the wrist delivered in words that were a slap in the face – a selectman complaining about the actions of the board I chair. In this case, the complaint as well as the insults were based on faulty information or his misreading of partial information. The three paragraph finger shaking was undeserved and certainly inappropriate as a means of communication between a selectman and a municipal board. It’s not the first combative communication and it’s not likely to be the last. This is well worn ground here in Wareham.
After a few minutes, I sent a reply asking to meet to discuss the issues. After several hours, I drafted a response, correcting misunderstanding and setting the record straight. It wasn’t quite as abrasive as what I had received, but there were a few sentences that weren’t exactly complimentary. With the help of other board members, I chose other words. If the selectman who sent the email doesn’t agree to a meeting, I will send it.
There are three possibilities every time I leave Town Hall. I don’t have to go the way I came. Regardless of what I encounter in Town Hall, I can choose another direction when I leave. I don’t have to go down the same road, trading confrontational and insulting language back and forth. I can choose neutral words, correcting misunderstanding and false information without bitterness. I don’t have to return like for like.
It’s not easy for me to return respect and patience for insult and accusation. But with the help of others, I’ll go in a different direction. With luck, patience, and prayer, perhaps the selectman who sent the email may just find it possible to do the same…
O Sing to the Lord a new song. Psalm 96:1