A Lesson from 2015

A Lesson from 2015

It’s that season of the year when everyone engages in retrospectives.

So I’ve gone back over my blogs for 2015 to see what I could see.

My first posts of 2015 focused on violent death. I addressed a report that there had been a significant increase in the number of police officers killed in the line of duty in 2014 and followed that with some consideration of the context of coverage of violent death of men and women in uniform versus civilians.

Over the course of 2015, I wrote at least nine blogs (roughly 10 percent of all my blog posts) about violent death. Between the terrorist attacks at Charlie Hebdo and in Paris, as well as the mass shootings in Oregon, South Carolina, Colorado and California, I felt compelled to write about violence. I had to write about outrage and sorrow and frustration in response to these tragedies. There were additional columns on the weapons of choice in these attacks, about the words and actions of public officials and public figures, and about our collective responsibility for addressing the underlying violence in our society.  It remains an unpleasant set of memories of this past year.

While stories about violence drew my pen more often than I could wish, I actually found myself writing much more about our state legislature. Over a quarter of all of my posts were concerned with some aspect of the work of Florida House and/or Senate. Probably half of those addressed the still-ongoing redistricting debacle. When redistricting wasn’t the subject, it was often the peculiar phenomenon of a state under one party control that could not seem to accomplish even essential tasks like passing a budget on time.

Then, of course, there was and remains the news from the presidential primary campaign front. The chaos on the Republican side of the political spectrum wrought by an overwhelming number of candidates and Donald Trump’s most unconventional notion of what it means to run for president provided plenty of food for thought (and some indigestion). I wrote about leadership, about the responsibilities of candidates and about the debates. On this last, I proposed a radical reconceptualization of the primary debate process (the presidential debate bracket system) that, alas, did not catch on.

While these kinds of stories dominated my blog this year, they aren’t the reason I write. My goal as a blogger is to extract lessons for local leaders from events in the news – whether local, state, national or international in scope. Sometimes the story itself drives my writing, and the local lesson may be lost. But I frequently come back to our local leaders and local communities, whether by writing about local issues, or by interpreting events through local lenses.

Most of us can do little if anything about the forces at work behind the big stories of 2015. Whether politics, prejudice, policy failure or some combination of the three drives those events, all the strings often seem to be in other people’s hands.

But while those of us who work at the local level may not be able to silence the Islamic State’s vicious social media campaign, let alone its guns; while we lack the power to know which of our citizens might use their exercise of the right to bear arms to kill themselves or others; while we cannot change the political equations that seem to lie behind our state’s struggles simply to make essential policy decisions, we remain more powerful than we often realize.

Our individual choices matter. Especially for those of us who bear the mantle of public responsibility, our individual choices matter a great deal.

So it matters what we say about who we are, and what we do. It matters how we think of those with whom we have dealings, and it matters how we think of ourselves.

We matter. You matter. I do, too. And our choices matter . . . sometimes more than we can possibly imagine, or than we might like.

That’s my takeaway from 2015. It’s intimidating, truthfully. But it also is inspiring.

And it’s enough to get me out of bed each day, striving to do what I can do with what I have, for as long as I can, for the sake of others.