Persona non Grata


Some of the main folks involved in coordinating the community garden met yesterday to hash out the plot lease contract for this year, and to talk about how to proceed. Though I have offered to serve as “interim coordinator” for the garden to get it off and running, I am told that there needs to be a new face for the project or the transitional VAAC Board will probably say “no.”

So, I was asked, basically, if I would pretend not to be involved in the project find a new “face” for the project so it is politically easier for the transitional board to say yes without seeming to approve of my speaking out publicly about how the previous Board was running things. So, we found a face that will seem more friendly so that we can continue to serve the VAAC and the community through the garden project.

While I understand that some are sore about the things I said and wrote, and how the whole board resignation thing took place, it seems the height of ridiculousness to then try to block projects that benefit the VAAC because of who is involved with them.

This is a small town, and though it is easy to piss people off, it is incredibly important to continue to work with people, even if you don’t like them. There are just too few people with the skills and motivation to get things done to pick and choose who you’re willing to work with.

Holding a grudge in a small town, I’ve learned, just ends up blowing back in one’s face. I’m not applying for sainthood or anything, but I do work with a number of folks who have caused me some ill-ease in the past: people who’ve stalked me (quite literally!), people whose line of fire I’ve come under while on the VAAC Board, people who’ve fired “let me go,” or who have made disparaging remarks about me personally or professionally in the past.

Holding a grudge is just too tiresome (at least to me) and too detrimental to getting anything done.

It reminds me of the quote I heard on the radio last week–one of the Union County Commissioners who was planning on voting against the oil refinery rezoning ended up voting for it specifically because of “personal attacks” on him made by others who were opposed to the refinery. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face! “I’m mad at you, so I’m going to vote against what both you and I want just to shame you!”

I do not know what exactly those personal attacks were, or if in fact they were personal attacks at all (I’ve defined them in a previous post), but I do know that even if you don’t like the people who share your “side,” that in itself is not a reason to change sides.

With the VAAC, we should all be on the same side–the side that wants the Arts Council to be strong and to promote the arts and humanities in Vermillion. We may have differences about the best way to get that done, and we may have disagreements about procedure (that’s why we have bylaws), and we may not even like each other very much, but if a project benefits the VAAC and the community, it seems to me that the project should go forward without the burden of political maneuvering.

(Edit) But, you know, maybe I’m wrong.  I say this because while I have had a number of people thank me for being open, for being honest, for being direct over the years, half the time they are backing away while they’re doing it.  Like it could be contagious.

Maybe this is a social skill that I just never learned on the playground or in a daycare–how to force a smile and pretend and play the game even when the game seems ridiculous and wrong to me.  Maybe I just never learned to look past the elephant in the room and politely nod and engage in conversation to smooth things over.  And so maybe in being direct and honest, I am making the way less smooth, less easy, and myself less palatable as a person to work with.

I tend to think that a free and open exchange of ideas is a good thing, and a direct mode of communication is also good (though I do sometimes engage or encourage my students to engage in certain kinds of vaguaries in order to make their tone or their message more palatable to their audience).

But, I certainly can’t forget, in what I thought was an open and free exchange of ideas about the basic writing program I taught for, I was accused of being insubordinate for suggesting there were problems and that there might be some good ways of resolving them.  As an adjunct instructor, I was not considered qualified to identify problems with the system in which I worked–or, at least, I was not qualified to voice them.

I spent a few weeks fearing for my livelihood because of that.  Heck, I might be insubordinate right now for even mentioning that it happened.  Those experiences tend to have what’s called a “chilling effect.”  For me, they also have a confusing effect.

I guess I just want someone to explain to me why I should shut up when I am knowledgeable and involved and have ideas to offer.  And the response of “because you could lose your job” or “because we’ll ax your project” just makes me even more confused.  If the response was, “because you don’t know what you’re talking about,” I could proceed to ask for an explanation, so I would understand.

But, if I am going to lose my job or if a project that I have worked on that benefits many people is going to be axed because I won’t bow and scrape and kiss the ring and humbly apologize for having an idea or a suggestion, is it really worth being involved in in the first place?  Does everyone really just want “yes men”?

Well, I guess we know who isn’t cut out for the corporate world.  Good thing I’m a farmer.  Sometimes vegetables make a lot more sense than people do to me.

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