A Lesson in Local Governnment

As a young professional, one of my mentors would ask, “Is this the hill you want to die on?” When something appears to be unjust or unfair, I speak up. Now that I’m older, I’ve realized unbridled idealism isn’t always practical.  At times it is easier to swim with the current than against it. Quiet acceptance seems to make life easier and you tend to end up with more friends, because you’re less controversial.   Everyone wins, right?

Not always. 

Last year, I witnessed what I believe to be inappropriate behavior that challenging publicly might qualify me as “dying on a hill,” and I feel the need to speak out, to start climbing that hill.  The behavior demonstrated in my presence is challenging to put words around. As Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said when the Court struggled to define obscenity, he “knew it when he saw it.”  In this incident, I too know what I saw.

I’ve recounted the experience with a few of my trusted advisors, many of whom have community influence, respect & positional power representing different backgrounds and walks of life. One of those advisors, simply looked at me said, “So what are you going to do? No one says anything because everyone is too afraid to speak up.”

I sat with that question for a while.

The Battle Over Our Silence

I’m not going to share in this blog the details of what happened.  The details don’t really matter and it’s not always about what you know, it’s what you know you can prove. There’s a process in place and people that have their point of view to protect. That’s not a battle, for me to fight or likely win. I have however, found my voice.

But I think there is a more important battle that we can all win: the battle over our silence.

Winston Churchill famously said, “Democracy is the worst form of government possible, except all the others.”

Democracy isn’t perfect, but it’s our best option, but it only works when we participate. It calls us to wake up, pay attention and engage. Democracy means you have a voice but only if you use it. When the framers said for the people and by the people they were talking about YOU.

You are the people.

Maybe you’re like me, maybe you’re skeptical about the questionable practices in your community. Or perhaps, you’ve seen or heard something but you are too scared to speak up. Perhaps you’ve decided it was a hill you didn’t want to climb or die on.  Maybe you’ve stayed silent because you just don’t think that speaking up will ever truly matter. I wouldn’t blame you if you’ve felt any of those things. I know I’ve felt them all.

Yet our silence only contributes to a culture where complaints go ignored, accountability lacks and vocal opposition remains intimidating. If we remain silent, then we are complicit. We become accomplices in a system where those in power act without concern or accountability.

We get the representation we deserve.

Use Your Voice

The next time you witness someone with power & influence abusing their power, or the next time you feel ignored or intimidated for using your voice, then I encourage you to lead with your internal strength and use it anyway. Hiking up a hill is much more enjoyable with others. Let’s challenge each other to live and work more authentically as we work to advance our great city and improve lives in the community.

And if you are a person of influence, I ask that you listen to those who speak their voice.  Conduct the due diligence to look into their claims and when you find the truth, seek the appropriate and just outcome.

And if we die on the hills we chose to climb, so be it. After all, hills are where our heroes are buried.   We all have opportunities to lean in, take the chance and be one of those heroes.

Summit on Transparency in Local Government

Shafer Leadership Academy is proud to partner with Muncie Action Plan and the Bowen Center at Ball State University on the upcoming Citizen Summit on Transparency in Local Government

The Summit, which is sponsored by Ivy Tech Community College, will be hosted at the recently renovated John and Janice Fisher Building on Saturday, September 14th. The purpose of the summit is to explore solution-focused, and nonpartisan, opportunities to foster transparency in local government. 

The Summit is free and open to the public. You can learn more here.

About the author:

Mitch Isaacs was named Shafer Leadership Academy’s Executive Director in May 2015. In this role, he works closely with the organization’s board of directors to fulfill the mission of the organization. He is responsible for creating vision, connecting with stakeholders, administering program offerings and leading the organization in meaningful ways.  Learn more about Mitch »