Municipal elections, as with any bit of news that happened more than a week ago, are now but a distant memory. Those who were not successfully elected are recovering from the sting and beginning to emerge back into community and figure out what’s next for them. Those who did win are moving from the rosy glow of “You like me! You really like me!” into the stark reality of “Holy Smacks, this is a ton of work!”. And the community at large is falling out of its munipolimance settling back into the regular and familiar routine of “us vs them”.
For the newly elected, the uninitiated, the change in the temperature in community relations, also and truly called neighbour relations, can be quite unsettling. I remember it well from my early days as a local elected official. It seemed to me that it often went one of two ways (this is just my perspective, you understand):
1) People I barely knew who had perhaps never even let a greeting pass their lips prior to my election suddenly behaved as if we were besties; or
2) People with whom I thought I had a pretty decent neighbourly relationship suddenly became cool and distant.
With group one, I was taken aback, sure, but I always welcome new friends and generally really enjoyed getting to know people. With group two, I was perplexed. At first – perhaps being a bit slow on the uptake – I couldn’t figure out what it was about. I’d scroll through a mental list of possible offenses: Is my dog barking too much? Did I butt in line at the post office? Perhaps I’d scooped up the last good cantaloupe at the grocery store… I was at a loss to understand what I had done to make people who had formerly been friendly turn to stone when I was near. Over time, I came to realize what had happened: I had become “them”. I’d joined the axis of evil known as “The Town” (which I’ve always found a bit funny, since everyone who lives here is really “The Town”).
Never mind that many of my neighbours actually installed me into this position by supporting me with their vote… somehow, even though I still lived in the same house and pay taxes like everyone else, by becoming an elected official my intent was assumed to have changed from virtuous to malevolent.
Here I shall insert the caveat that not everyone behaved in one of those two ways, and also that I say all this not to garner pity for the tough life of the poor elected official. I had a great time during my two terms on Council. I learned so much, enjoyed new experiences, made great friends and really grew as a person. But yes, there were many difficult and challenging times. There are really hard decisions to be made, some quite technical in nature, and there are team dynamics to be developed. There’s the fact we’re planning for the future without the benefit of a crystal ball, that resources are always limited, and that sometimes there is no great solution to complex issues.
The point of this post is to hopefully bring some understanding to the community as to whom you have elected: your neighbour. The person now serving in elected capacity in your town or city is just that — a person. They are who they were before you elected them, and they will be that again after they cease to be a public figure. In light of that, I’d like to ask that everyone in community bear a few things in mind:
1) Council is not out to get you and screw with your life.
2) They did not become sub-human at the swearing-in ceremony. They still have the same feelings as mere mortals. Sticks and stones will break their bones AND names will really hurt them. Make your mother proud and avoid abusive behaviour. With everyone.
3) In the same vein, the way you speak to or about elected officials is not necessarily a reflection on them — it’s really more of a statement about you. When speaking in public (or posting on social media) choose your words in a way that reflects what a nice person you are.
4) Ask them. If you don’t understand the thinking behind a decision, or the process that was followed, or the direction in which your community appears headed, ask your elected neighbour (and by the way, they may or may not ever see a random post out in social media-land). I’ve rarely met an elected person who wouldn’t be grateful for the opportunity to bring understanding and talk openly with community members.
As community members, we don’t have to like every decision that is made nor should we sit by silently while Council carries the load of responsibility. But we’d all do well to remember that we are neighbours. And, as neighbours, mutual respect is never going to be a wasted effort.