Monday, September 11, 2006

Lessons from the woodshop...

It is election time again in Eureka Springs and as always, I stand in admiration of those willing to put their time toward betterment of our community. Unfortunately, if patterns play out as in countless times before, by January, all of the best intentions fall to naught, and the rudeness begins. I have never lived anyplace like Eureka. I have always been in love with this community. And I am always very sad about the disturbing qualities of our public discourse.

One of my favorite sayings is from Jean Jacques Rousseau: “Put a young man in a woodshop, his hands work to the benefit of his brain; he becomes a philosopher while thinking himself only a craftsman.”

There are many things to be learned in the woodshop that apply to life outside its doors. The first has to do with the care of tools. They must be kept sharp. In their making, they were carefully hardened to hold an edge, and then tempered to keep from being brittle. Extreme care is given in the sharpening of a craftsman’s tools. If during the process of sharpening the tool, the metal becomes too hot, it loses its temper and its hardness, and will no longer keep a good edge. At that point, the tool must be extensively reworked or discarded.

Here in Eureka, at least in politics, it seems that it is acceptable to lose your temper, lose you cool, and then proceed into public discourse with axes grinding. Reckless sparring with a blunt axe may even bring applause from other dull blades.

A true craftsman would know the ineffectiveness of the blunt edge: that he does damage to the material and his community by performing as a rude hack.

A note of warning and hopefulness to those who wish to serve: It is difficult to break old habits, and the deep-seated patterns of rude public discourse will be challenging to break. Even if you make your own commitment to civility, there will be those who will challenge you rudely and without reason. Keep cool. Keep your temper. If you lose it, you have lost your effectiveness and your work will do more damage than good. The sharpness of your intellect is essential to the job for which you have volunteered. Of equal importance is the kindness of the manner in which the sharp edge of your intelligence is applied. If we each are held accountable first and foremost to our display of civility and compassion we will find greater joy and ease in being of service.

If each of those running for public office were to make commitments first and foremost to civility of speech and behavior, recognizing that a community of loving kindness, civility and respect is more important overall than the specifics of our many individual objectives we will see a dramatic change for the best.

Doug Stowe

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