May 25, 2005

RULES FOR THE SANDBOX

Guest opinion submitted by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo

About 20 years ago, â??All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergartenâ?? hit the bestseller list. Robert Fulghum compiled observations about life, demonstrating that values we learned as children in the â??sandboxâ?? were principles upon which to build harmonious and successful adult relationships. Around the same time, another book, â??Getting to Yes,â?? gained an extensive following. It discusses â??principled negotiationâ?? which includes reaching agreement by focusing on interests rather than positions, finding ways to achieve mutual gain, and communicating with objective standards of fairness and respect. Using very different formats, both books emphasize comity in interpersonal and group relationships. By definition, comity is a state of harmony or mutual civility and respect. Throughout my years of public service, both in the Idaho State Legislature and Congress, I have maintained that the only way to effectively address challenges, whether it is clean air in Boise, public lands access and use in Owyhee County, or advise and consent of Presidential appointees, is through these universal principles of respect and civility. I like what a southern environmental collaborative working on Endangered Species Act improvement recently playfully dubbed â??The Southern Rules of Engagement.â?? These rules set up an environment of comity and keep the sandbox a place of creativity, harmony and productivity.1)Come to the table.2)Leave your organizational 2 X 4 at the door.3)Polarized opinion generates more heat than light and has no place at the table.4)Pick solutions, not fights5)Search for the most expansive common ground that isnâ??t intrusive.6)Attack ideas, not individuals7)Differences of opinion can lead to enlightened decision making8)No personal attacks. One strike--youâ??re out.9)Have fun!Generally, Idahoans have a propensity to conduct business with these â??rulesâ?? in mind. Admittedly, we get as riled up as anyone else, but problem-solving is affected by the fact that we live with, work with and depend upon one another long after the conclusion of contentious business. In larger population centers, people can conduct business and impersonal relationships with less regard for civility, reasonably confident that they will have limited future interactions with the other party. In his book, Community and the Politics of Place, Daniel Kemmis discusses our Founding Fathersâ?? â??republican tradition.â?? â??The â??republican traditionâ?? rested squarely upon this face-to-face, hands-on approach to problem-solving, with its implicit belief that people could rise above their particular interests to pursue a common good.â?? Kemmis suggests that, due in part to concerns regarding tyranny, this tradition was replaced by the more centralized political structure found in the Constitution. Stemming in part from reaction to Shayâ??s Rebellion, many Constitutional Convention delegates felt that for a flawed, self-interested humanity, limiting open political discourse on a broad scale was the best way to ensure good and virtuous government. As a result, on a federal level America didnâ??t develop a preference for what Kemmis calls â??the politics of engagement.â??Arguably, the sheer size of the United States necessitates our representative democracy. But, many issues are provincial in nature, whether in a community of 3,000 in Idaho or in a body of 100 people in Washington, D.C. Many solutions are best discovered in a â??republican traditionâ??--face-to-face and hands-on within the parameters of mutual respect and civility. Ideas espoused in Fulghumâ??s book, â??principled negotiationâ?? and the â??Southern Rules of Engagementâ?? echo this tradition. They all return to the notion of comity. When discussions disintegrate into posturing and name-calling, basic intellect, self-respect and good sense are sacrificed on the altar of sound bites and self-promotion. Sand is thrown, eyes stung, and the game ends because one party picks up their toys and walks away, refusing to work out differences.