Argument is Always Good

by on October 19th, 2010
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There’s a story in the December 10th Oregonian, “District learns school bond lesson.” After the failure of the record-sized Portland Public Schools construction bond, which they’d created without any public input, they are now actively seeking advice from the public, particularly from their opponents, as they craft a new proposal. It’s a lesson that this Board could stand to learn, and not just regarding tax proposals.

Some time ago, I grabbed a quote from a very wise man, Ben Lyons on At the Movies, to use at the end of my e-mails: “Argument is always good; opposition is true friendship.” If one is proposing something, listening and responding to arguments can make it a better proposal. If the idea is good, arguing back can sell the proposal to the opposition or at least to people on the fence. Conversely, argument can get one to think over and reject one’s own proposal, as happened in an Admin meeting a while back, when our County Counsel pointed out a major flaw in my proposal to get two commissioners to agree on a new commissioner. I agreed with him and dropped the idea.

If you are about to make a major mistake, a friend will argue. If you persist, a true friend will oppose you to try to stop you from making a mistake that can haunt you for years. A friend will do this regardless of how much it ticks you off, even at the risk of your friendship. One is truly loving one’s neighbour when one tries to persuade him from committing unnecessary evil that will come back to bite him in the butt and make one’s neighbourhood a worse place to live.

Lincoln appointed his so-called “enemies,” his political opposition, to his cabinet. He was a very wise man, who knew the value of argument. He talked with them first, responding to their arguments, before taking action. It probably stopped him from making a lot of mistakes.

In a couple of weeks, the two of you will be picking a new commissioner. Think hard about what Lincoln did, and what the Portland Public Schools failed to do. Think about appointing a member of the loyal opposition to this important post, rather than someone who thinks just like you. Think about appointing someone who has very different life experience from most people in government, and yet has been a student of these meetings for years. Think about appointing someone who will see and oppose your mistakes before you make them.

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