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Council Corner: 'So — you wanna fight?'

The recent community discussions surrounding public art, downtown behavior, marijuana laws, land use and other topics have shown we have a long way to go if we as Ashlanders want to “walk the walk” of tolerance and respect for those with differing views.

As a 20-year resident, I count myself fortunate to live in such a wonderful community. I often remark to my wife and children how lucky they are to grow up in such a great place.

We live in a beautiful area, with many activities and cultural events, with a collective value that embraces education and individuality. What makes Ashland truly special, though, is the willingness of our citizens to get involved and to be heard.

Lately, however, it seems the dialogue has taken a turn away from inclusion, understanding and tolerance to a style that seeks to draw an "either you are with me or against me” line on each and every issue. It has resembled a bar fight more than an educated, tolerant and open community dialogue.

Lately, the commentary has gone beyond simply articulating our opinions and reasoning on a given topic, to personal attacks or nasty language aimed at the “opponent.” It seems bullying has taken the place of dialogue.

Now, believe me, after seven years as an elected official, I have a thick skin. It is not the words or what someone may say about me personally that bother me. It is the fact that as a community that prides itself on being open and tolerant of others, there has arisen a tactic to treat those with whom we disagree as the “enemy.” This has saddened me a great deal.

As an example, longtime, involved residents made valid points regarding the public art proposal and the process, but there have been additional comments referring to the piece itself as “garbage” and “trash.” Have we become so callous (in Ashland of all places) that we have so little respect for another human being, who puts their passion and effort into a serious piece of art, that we call it "trash?"

Others referred to the proposal as an “atrocity.” Really? Do all the horrible human tragedies playing out around the planet every day compare to a proposed public art piece in Ashland?

Unfortunately, these are not isolated examples. Some of my own friends and people I respect a great deal have made comments on social media that are closer to cyber-bullying than constructive community dialogue.

This is not unique to the art project. On other topics we see arguments go immediately to vulgar and personal attacks, accompanied with threats of retaliation should an alternate proposal even be considered.

Maybe we are taking cues from the national stage, where it seems throwing disrespectful verbal bombs at your opponent like a petulant child or showing a proclivity for deception whenever it is advantageous are preferred formulas for victory.

Maybe we are following the examples of some local “leaders” who use misinformation to inspire community action or use vulgar language, threats and derogatory remarks in an effort to intimidate when it seems they have lost the argument. I believe we are collectively better than that, but that for us to truly “walk the walk” and come together as a community, we need to decide if we really want to at all.

We must decide to reject the notion that a disagreement means a fight, rather than an opportunity to learn or find common ground. We must reject those in our community who don’t hesitate to twist facts and push misinformation or resort to simple bullying tactics to promote their agenda. We can reject the idea that every argument is a “zero-sum game,” where there is no room for compromise.

We are a small town, and the likelihood of running into your “opponent” at the grocery store, at the show, at the ball fields or even across the dinner table is high. So, let’s object. Let’s oppose. Let’s organize and mobilize. Let’s argue passionately. Let’s just do it with respect and tolerance, setting the example for our children to follow and living up to the ideals we have long espoused as Ashlanders.

Greg Lemhouse is a member of the Ashland City Council.