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If You Have Something to Say — A Plea to Move Out of Middle School Behavior

September 30, 2010

Earlier today Michael Cass of the Tennessean published a blog post that attempted to suggest that Councilman Duane Dominy’s legislation regarding the Fairgrounds was driven by his relationship with a neighbor invested in the racetrack. Exploring Councilman Dominy’s motives for suggesting the legislation is certainly within the bounds of good and proper investigation. However, what irks me about the piece was the impetus that moved Mr. Cass to discover that Councilman Dominy lived near racetrack promoter Tony Formosa. Cass wrote:

Metro Council man Duane Dominy announced legislation to protect the Tennessee State Fair and other events at the Metro-owned fair grounds on Monday. Within 48 hours or so, two people who want to move the fair and redevelop the site called my attention to an interest ing fact about the Antioch councilman.

Public records show Dominy, who is running for a state House seat, lives across the street on Cherokee Place from Tony Formosa, who runs the race track at the fairgrounds. Mayor Karl Dean wants to relocate the fair grounds flea market and expo center to Hickory Hollow Mall in Antioch but hasn’t expressed much interest in finding another home for the race track. So redevelopment supporters are privately questioning what Dominy’s true motives are.

The problem is the “private” nature of the questioning with these redevelopment supporters being unwilling to admit publicly their concerns and take responsibility for their accusations. They slink around in the back rooms and coffee shops, whispering to reporters hearsay and innuendo, urging the reporters like Cass to put something out publicly, but never being willing to risk their own reputations by taking ownership of their allegations.

I’ve already written a defense of Councilman Dominy in a comment on the blog site, but this post is a simple plea to the hatchet men and more importantly the reporters who perpetuate incivility by publishing these accusations without attribution. As John Stewart so elegantly told Tucker Carlson on CNN. “stop it!”

It’s not as if I don’t know anything about political realities among groups. Heck, I am a preacher in a local congregation. Churches are the most political institutions in the world, and we regularly have to deal with differences of opinion, theological understanding, and political philosophy. Many churches wallow in layers of politics, driven by the gossip mongers who work the phones and conduct “meetings after the meetings” in the parking lot. What I have come to see during my time in ministry is that more often than not, the behaviors that drives these interpersonal politics were learned in middle and high school, with people pretty well stuck in the ruts they drove into as teens. And one of the weapons most often used against another was the unattributed rumor that  has a small germ of truth, but is more or a less a lie. These were the innuendos spread by members of the football team about some other’s sexual orientation, or the rumors about Susie’s sleeping around. Most of the time they were total fabrications, but there would be enough of a seed of doubt that the reputation would stay with them throughout their rest of their school experience.

What I have done in the churches that I serve it to push back on these immature means of dealing with conflict, encouraging folks to grow up and take responsibility for their accusations. I tell my church personnel committees that I don’t and won’t respond to anonymous accusations, for I have no way of judging their veracity if I don’t know who made them. In urging my members to own up to their opinions and to accept critique as a means of growth, we together create a climate of trust that allows us to move forward rather than spending all our time pointing the finger at the other.

Look, there is adequate reason to question Councilman Dominy’s legislative efforts regarding differences in political philosophy and the lack of a common vision on the future of the fairgrounds. However, if you are going to make accusations about another’s motives (and thus their character), say them to their face. Take responsibility for your comments. Reporters, don’t let these public relations experts and professional hatchet men make you carry out their agendas without adequate cause. When we pass these innuendos around, we coarsen our life together, and the hatchet men pull the strings without any of us knowing it.

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