Are we capable of having a conversation anymore?

(Photo by Todd DeFeo/The DeFeo Groupe)

Recently, I had a conversation with an administrator of my city about a potential change to a city ordinance. I thought my proposed change to the business license requirement was non-controversial and easily made.

On an interesting side note, I have spoken with elected and non-elected officials for years about the change. I spoke with my neighbor on the city council, and he seemed to be on board with the change.

Then, for various reasons, a potential change was delayed. When I re-engaged my neighbor, I offered to speak to the city council, thinking the perspective of a “real person” might be beneficial.

He asked that I wait; the city was having some internal conversations. When I followed up with him shortly after that about potential next steps, he informed me the city went ahead and made changes; he didn’t have the decency to invite me to speak or put me in touch with someone in the city.

Fast forward a few months, my neighbor told me I should speak at an upcoming city council meeting. I did, and the city administrator said he would like to discuss the potential change.

I provide that context to share the crux of the problem today.

When I walked into the meeting, I was greeted by the administrator and another non-elected official. The administrator immediately told me there was “no appetite” to make changes.

Seeking to understand their position, I asked them to explain why this particular ordinance is in place. It boils down to the state allowing the city to regulate businesses, so they do, but they cannot elaborate on any services a small business receives as part of the process.

That’s the problem today. Too often, we cannot have a conversation.

Merriam-Webster, in part, defines conversation as “oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions, or ideas.” If two people are in the same room talking in each other’s direction, does that constitute a conversation?

I don’t think it does because we didn’t exchange ideas. If the first thought you share at the start of a “conversation” is we’re not going to consider your thoughts, what is there to discuss?

Look, I’m not surprised a city — either its elected officials or its non-elected bureaucracy — doesn’t want to change an ordinance. There isn’t much incentive to act unless an election or a job is on the line or there is significant public demand; in this case, I think a lot of people ignore the law, and the city knows it.

But why the refusal to participate in a conversation?

This inability to converse, debate or exchange differing opinions extends far beyond the local city hall. Blame social media, talk radio, cable news or the pandemic if you want, but the net result is the same; we’ve lost the ability to debate.

What I find so disappointing isn’t the lack of action. It’s the lack of genuine, interesting exchanging ideas.

I was hoping to gain new insight if not a “legislative victory.” Instead, I heard that in my city, a different position is not welcome by those grasping to the power they think they possess.