Letter: Civility, credibility and public dialogue

To the Editor:

When I was recently told that Tim Herbst is both speaking about civility in social media at the Trumbull High School commencement and sponsoring a civility series this fall, my first reaction was to wait for the punch line. When I learned both were true, the irony was staggering.

On civility, over the last five years, Mr. Herbst has not only been a poor example, but also his behavior appears to be getting worse. I am a registered Independent who believes responsible Republicans in town have given him good advice in his first few years. However, he recently seems to believe he has all the answers and publicly berates anyone who questions his decisions. The debate over the controversial paintings at the library, the proposed elimination of TYA funding, and the recent handling of the Nature Center/TNAC issue are but a few incidents. No matter your position on these subjects, I would be disappointed if many thought his statements were good examples of civility.

I am surprised that Mr. Herbst would try to take a leadership position on this subject. There are many effective ways to lead. Royal decree or overwhelming firepower have been effective leadership techniques for centuries. However, to increase civility in public life, leadership by example would seem most appropriate. No matter the quality of the content and delivery, without credibility, you seriously compromise the message because the audience won’t engage and is essentially not listening. You can’t positively influence people in an area where you lack credibility and personally violate the basic principles.

If Mr. Herbst believes his use of social media and his other public statements routinely demonstrate leadership in civility, I beg to differ. If he is engaging experts to facilitate the fall series in civility, he should show those experts what he has said in public recently. It’s too late for the commencement speech and his words may fall on many deaf ears, but he has this summer to show he actually understands what civil dialogue is. Otherwise, this fall, no matter how many people attend the program, no one again will really be listening.

Rick Bolton