Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Fear the Power to Paralyze and the Power to Motivate

There are so many wonderful and insightful quotes about fear. FDR’s quote, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself,” is the one I most often think of when faced with issues. He had great speech writers and that one line still resonates with so many of us today.

Fear can come in a variety of packages and can have both positive and negative outcomes, even in the same experience. I’ve had fears about writing and trying to have my writing published. However, there has also been a renewed sense of purpose and joy from the effort. It doesn’t seem like fear and joy go together, but it is often the case, that we fear the unknown and the new, even while we work through it.

Last night I faced an old, long standing fear. We’ve been friends for years. I went to speak at a public hearing on the budget for the City. I’ve been speaking on political issues in public since I was eighteen and my father would send me to public town meetings to speak on his behalf. The goal was to try to halt the out of control spending in town. It was from this experience I first learned about political windmills. We were some of the only fiscal conservatives in a very liberal tax and spend town. It was clear this was going to be a very valuable lesson in strength, courage, and oddly enough self-defense from little old ladies. Yes, you read that right, while one normally doesn’t think of old ladies as the people to get violent at political events when crossed they can get vicious and worse yet, you can’t defend yourself. The cops rarely intervene. After all, how do you complain as an eighteen year old teenager that you can’t outrun an old lady because you’re stuck in a crowded auditorium of people? You don’t, you learn to bring back up, who literally, not figuratively, watches your back. For many years it was my younger sister. She hated the politics but, she proved to be quite a worthy adversary for those old ladies. She could stare down the best of them. I missed her last night.

Yes, back to last night. I was the annual City budget hearing and as per usual while many residents complain about higher taxes, my husband and I are among the few who actually show up to speak on the issues. Instead we walked into a room filled with DPW Union workers to complain that two workers were being laid off. Now mind you we are in the process of violating the City teacher’s contract by not paying their step increases and likely will end up in court, costing the City huge penalties. We are told the state has some hard ship clause in it that allows them an out. Now maybe that’s true, after all we are nationalizing car companies, who is to say we can’t break teacher’s contracts, too. However, on top of violating the contract they are also laying off twenty-one teachers. Now I was against this contract when they passed it even as a former educator because I saw this issue coming down the pike. However, once you pass the contract you are bound to pay it.

When this contract was being negotiated the teachers threatened a work to rule action. The parents and taxpayers in this city went crazy. How would we begin to function if the teachers actually lived up to the letter of their contract? I’ve always thought that was a weakness of our Unions, why do we ask for language we know we can’t enforce and don’t get things that we could enforce? The teachers were vilified for daring to follow their Union rules.

This year, nobody is speaking about the teacher situation, in part because the City is in legal negations, but also because the teachers again just take it, unlike the municipal Unions that live to the exact letter of the contract and as we discovered this year, anything that has become habitual and not corrected, becomes as if it was contractual at a certain point. I do wonder if anyone would notice if they actually did work to rule, isn’t that what they do every day?

So I’ve digressed this was about fear and every year regardless of the topic, fear is always a part of it. There is a feeling in the pit of my stomach; an anxiety that even after all these years never goes away. I never have this problem speaking in front of children but put me in front of a room of adults and the stomach is not a happy beast. Yet there is a certain familiarity with that fear, I know it, and I have come to terms with why its there. Fearing the fear accomplishes little and distracts me from what I’ve come to accomplish.

Last night however there was a different kind of fear, a physical one. Freedom of speech and the right to appeal my government is one I’ve long cherished. I may be tilting at the windmills but it is my right to do so, protected by the Constitution. Last night others came, not with as much of a desire to express themselves as with a desire to keep others from doing so. That fear angered me as much as I found it intimidating and it challenged me to overcome a different fear, the challenge I find in talking to strangers. When I’m nervous, oddly enough I some times find it easier to talk to people I don’t know. Last night the people who were trying to intimidate me actually inspired me to speak to strangers.

I spoke to a woman who was intimidated by the angry crowd of men who had gathered, and were being rude and disruptive. This was a big night for her granddaughter, who was getting a college scholarship from the City. She was afraid an angry outburst from the crowd would ruin her young charge's day. Thankfully, her fears were not met, the scholarships were given out first and the night continued. I then found myself meeting reporters, a woman running for Council at Large, and a young man who it turns out is running for mayor. I had wrongly taken him for a reporter covering the City beat. As hostilities were growing I was willing to talk to anyone. My husband was not in a talkative mood.

What I learned from my fear last night was that it didn’t stop me. Actually anger was more of a detriment to my performance. I allowed the gentleman who spoke before me to get under my skin and it was anger, not the fear that made me struggle to deliver my speech.

I was direct, I quoted specific language Councilors had used in their presentations that had bothered me and that seemed to gain their attention. I invited all who attended who believed they weren’t paying enough in taxes to send more the next time they paid their taxes. It was time to stop charging their neighbors with selfishness, until they demonstrated free will giving. Another windmill has been conquered.

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