Perspectives: Critics, bridge builders, diplomacy; City Council candidate case study

OPINION – Criticism isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This is true whether we are the one receiving it or the one giving it. In St. George last week, criticism flowed to and fro like water in a sluice in connection with the final presentation of applicants for an empty council seat, and the aftermath of public opinion. While a different approach may not have brought a different result, it likely might have made strides in bridging some differences.

Critics or bridge builders?

Aristotle offered the only surefire way to avoid it when he said: “To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing.”

Few of us enjoy being criticized, but without honest, unflinching appraisal of our performance, personal progress is impossible. This is why we hire trainers, coaches, or mentors who specialize in identifying the specific flaws that are holding us back and, more importantly, offering appropriate corrections.

Finding individuals who are willing to offer criticism has never been especially difficult. Most seem perfectly willing to do it for free. But not all critics are of equal value.

“The motive behind criticism often determines its validity,” poet and philosopher Criss Jami said. “Those who care criticize where necessary. Those who envy criticize the moment they think that they have found a weak spot.”

Critics who seek to build appear to be greatly outnumbered by the ones who are simply looking for an excuse to tear others down. This tendency to engage in gratuitous criticism has been greatly intensified by the impersonal and often anonymous nature of online communication.

It’s unlikely that those sad souls who thrive on snarky negativity will aspire to become more constructive in their criticism. But for individuals who place more value on building than they do on tearing down, here are a couple of thoughts on becoming better critics.

Being complainers or faultfinders creates nothing of value. We must become bridge builders who are competent in the use of diplomacy.

Diplomacy isn’t just a skill for government representatives negotiating the affairs of nations. It is also the ability to deal with others without arousing feelings of hostility. This doesn’t mean that hard facts must be ignored. It means they must be addressed with a focus on solutions rather than a fixing of blame.

St. George City Council 

The recent St. George City Council meeting to appoint someone to fill Jon Pike’s vacant seat provided a good learning experience of the value of diplomacy.

When former City Council candidate Tara Dunn was making her pitch for why she should be appointed to the council seat, she pointed out several areas of personal concern. They included challenges faced by those with disabilities, problems created by code enforcement, and worries about the treatment of animals.

The final part of her remarks accused the City Council of oppressing nonMormons by forcing them to live as second-class citizens with no real representation in city government.

While some would dismiss Dunn’s criticism as hyperbole, there is an element of truth in each of the concerns she expressed. But the way the criticism was delivered overshadowed the problems she sought to address. How differently might her message have been received if she had employed diplomacy?

What if she instead had stated:

I choose to live and participate in this community because I believe it has something worthwhile to offer all of us. Over the past few years, I’ve taken an active role in standing up for our community’s best qualities.

The strong show of support for me in the last election is a good measure of my effectiveness in earning the trust of my fellow St. George residents. But on occasion, I bump into the invisible barriers by which we divide ourselves into different groups, especially those of a religious nature.

I want to reach beyond those barriers and help bring us together on the shared ideals that make St. George a place in which we are proud to live. I need the help of others who are likewise willing to reach beyond those barriers to make this possible. Can I count on your help?

By utilizing more diplomacy, it’s still entirely possible that Dunn would not have been selected for the appointment. However, she may have opened the door to addressing the very real problem of religious cliquishness without putting her audience on the defensive.

Her criticism would have taken on a much more constructive nature. It would have encouraged the building of bridges.

When we build bridges to those with differing points of view, we don’t do so with the intent of dragging them kicking and screaming over to our side. Nor do we seek to deceive them into crossing the bridge. Instead, we build the bridge as a place where we may meet them halfway, because this is where the common ground is located.

Just as they must set aside prejudices to move in our direction, we must do the same to move toward them.

It’s not enough to tell people how wrong they are. Real, lasting solutions require the efforts of a bridge builder.

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Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives talk show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.


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  • Truth seeker January 27, 2014 at 10:44 am

    Regardless of what Tara said or should have said, the truth about her woes with the city would be much more interesting. It’s amazing just how far she got with her campaign by making up stories about the hardships the city caused her at her residence. Nothing in her story is the truth. The truth would not have made a good story or helped he with her plight to help oust all the evil-doers in the city. It’s a scary to think she almost got elected by telling these fibs. But then again, it’s not like that’s never happened before in elections.

  • D Hodja January 27, 2014 at 11:08 am

    Tara voiced appropriately what many non-Mormons in St George feel. Many come to this small city believing it is paradise, when, in reality it is simple minded and operated by like-minded one dimensional people scared to death of real change. Change that isn’t white. Change that isn’t Mormon. Change that isn’t “Moral”. The list goes on. Anyone in denial of the reality only look to the city council. Amen. At least the council could own their silliness in this selection. But, nah, they know Mormons will back whatever they do just like locals support Jeremy Johnson and believe the US Government is conspiring against him, or John Swallow elected and selected by Utah Mormons who chose him because of his church activity, and are still in denial of the crimes he has committed. The best thing that will ever happen to Utah and St George is a bit of diversity in thought, some education on critical thinking, and some good training on leadership not following old men down the same road. Joe Bowcutt for example, newly elected, is a failed title worker who then failed in recruiting for Phoenix University. My guess is although he fit the Mormon mold, he will do about as well on the council…but here in Southern Utah its about fitting in, nothing more or less, so we have put our future in the hands of another failed old man not a young energetic women unafraid to voice the reality. Sickening.

    • Zeke January 27, 2014 at 12:46 pm

      So what your’re saying is: we need to be more like the bigger progressive cities? Like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Manhattan, Chicago, Detroit, Miami, etc… Hmmm, NO THANKS! Look where all that critical thinking and social justice got them.

      • bub January 27, 2014 at 4:08 pm

        Considering all we hear about is growth, growth, and more growth, I think ST george may begin to look like those big cities before too long. I wish it would stay a small community but that’s really not realistic in the long run.

  • egor shulman January 27, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    Some non-mormons like st george very much. Just because I come from Chicago it does not mean I want st george to be like Chicago. I escaped Chicago for something different and st george fits the bill just fine. I never understood people who move into a homogeneous community and want to change it all around – why did you move here?

    • bub January 27, 2014 at 3:35 pm

      This city doesn’t have big city problems… well, because it’s small obviously. Not because it’s homogeneous.

  • JAR January 27, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    D. Hodja
    Bryan’s article on Bridge Building Suggestions ideas just didn’t sit well with you, did it.
    I hope your monday morning quarterbacking outlook doesn’t affect your entire coming week. Myself, being a transplant to St. George from So. California noticed the changes in life styles right off the bat.
    Took a couple of years adjusting too. (they drive so damn slow here and some don’t think the way I do).
    But would I move back to LA? … no! Look on the good side Mr. Hodja. And give your neighbors a hand.
    p.s. Only 2 of the 3 people I voted for were elected too. THE VOTING WAS RIGGED.
    Ed. ellipsis

  • Ken January 27, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    I didn’t vote for Dunn and not sure what the bantering from “truth seeker” is all about. Do you have some factual evidence or just trying to make yourself feel good? I think the Utah code needs to be changed and another election should have been held for the vacant seat. This selection wasn’t what the voters voted this is what a religion wanted. Why vote in Utah when they can just pick whomever they want and not have a vote? Giving a position away is a slap in the face to all voters. I think Dunn’s comments to the council were overboard but she probably knew that any appointment from a group of Mormons would be a Mormon!

  • anonymous January 27, 2014 at 8:46 pm

    I movered here from Las Vegas nearly two years ago. Sadly I can’t wait until I finish with college so I can get out of this town and back to Vegas. The biggest problem is that I’m one of those non-mormon second class citizans. Its sad to point out that im only considered important when it comes to the local economy. But when it comes to my input and opinons I suddenly am treated like a piece of crap. What’s with that.

    • anon January 27, 2014 at 10:25 pm

      If your not happy here you must be living in sin. Have you been paying your tithe? Keeping the word of wisdom? Maintaining your temple recommend? What’s that? Your not a member of the one true church?! *gasp!

  • McMurphy January 27, 2014 at 9:30 pm

    Dunn campaigned as not one of the good old boys and wanting to shake the status quo. The mayor and council did not wanted things to stay the same as much as possible and some one who was the right kind of people and …zzzzzzzzzzzzz

    Dunn certainly did not help herself during the interview but it didn’t matter. She was not one of us, she was one of them.

  • Boots January 27, 2014 at 10:35 pm

    The council did not select someone who represents the city residents,. They selected someone who will do their biding, a gopher, a boot kicker. Welcome Boots to the council. To the People who make comparisons of StG to cities having a higher population than all of Utah, are you that stupid to think there is a similarity? Realistically you can compare StG to radical Islamic controlled places where people like many here are basically told to shut up and do as told or the government will go after them. Remember the many complaints and lawsuits against the city? However, that non representative Boots will fill that capacity of doing as told. Start licking,Boots.

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