Friday, November 12, 2010

Secrets, Commissioners and Veterans

(News-Herald, November 11) I’d like to be the first to announce that I am not one of the twenty-five secret candidates for County Commissioner.
Had I known someone could try for the job under cover of darkness, I might have. But I figured that being a candidate for a very public elected office involved the public knowing, publicly, what you were up to. Silly me.
This is a nifty new breakthrough in public (well, public-ish) service. I’m wondering if the new commissioner will remain secret, appearing at meetings with a bag over his/her head. Maybe this cone of secrecy will be extended to the new secret commissioner’s actions. I can see the headlines now: “Commissioner Baghead Votes To Do Something. Or Not.”
I understand the notion that, should the candidates’ names be known publicly, the people who have to make the selection will be subject to endless lobbying and pressure. After that decision is made, the unsuccessful applicants will be labeled “losers” and other children on the playground will mock them and steal their lunch money.
I agree that this would all be unpleasant. It would, in fact, be pretty much like the usual process of filling any other elective office.
I believe that some of the real journalists here at the News-Derrick have suggested that the process being used is illegal. As a fake journalist, I can go ahead and call it a less objective journalistic term like, say, dumb.
Nobody looks at this kind of secrecy and assumes that The Powers That Be are hiding something Really Good. The new commissioner, if he is not one of the people with the cojones to reveal himself in the newspaper, will start the job with baggage. The folks who want to do this selection in some smoke-filled back room are not doing Commissioner Baghead any favors.
The impulse to keep things secret is almost always a mistake, but the world is filled with managers, leaders, and politicians who are drawn to it like a moth to a blowtorch.
Some buckle when they make a mistake, like five year old hiding the pieces of the broken lamp. Trying to hide mistakes is, well, a mistake. You’ll still pay the price for the mistake, and the interest on that payment will be some not-too-flattering reflections on your character. People who try to hide their mistakes instead of dealing with them do not inspire trust or respect in others, ever.
Worse, some people will buckle before making a mistake. Faced with a decision, they will try to hide their choice or, worst yet, hide that there is even a choice to make. If they choose, someone may disagree or criticize, so they avoid any moment of decision at all. Faced with a situation that requires a response of any kind, they pretend that they see no such problem. To avoid the criticism or kibitzing of others, they try to keep even the need for a decision a secret.
It’s not so much cloak-and-dagger secrecy as it is the hope that we can get other people to ignore it until it goes away. And we all contribute because there are things that we often conspire to ignore. Take today, for example.
I am sure there are many practical reasons that we pay way more attention to Memorial Day than Veterans Day, but I tend to think our focus is backwards. The folks we honor on Memorial Day are gone. We can respect their sacrifice, but their troubles are over and we don’t have to think about them.
It’s easy to make noise about honoring the dead. Veterans are still here, and their problems still deserve attention. We are currently fighting the longest war in American history, but you would never know that to look at us.
When we think of returning soldiers, we like to think of the glorious parades of World War II, but that’s a glossy half-truth. WWI, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq—the story of our last several wars is the story of veterans who came home to a country that in many ways tried to make secrets out of them, to avoid noticing them, or their sacrifices, or the way in which their sacrifice for our country changed their lives.
When it comes to citizens, many, if not most, do our best to avoid thinking about veterans, allowing our treatment of them, both as individuals and as a society, to stay secret. Today, don’t ask if we should respect them—that’s a given. Ask yourself if veterans should respect the rest of us.

No comments:

From my Flickr