Separate the Message from the Messenger

It was a frigid January night in 1994.  A robust early winter snow had draped Falmouth in a thick blanket of white.  My friend Ron “Ronnie D” DeSouza was home on leave from the Army, so we headed over to Finnegan’s Pub in the old Falmouth Mall for an after dinner drink (or two). 

After reminiscing and laughing for a couple of hours, Ronnie D and I left the warm confines of Mike Giery’s cheerful establishment and began the short trek back to my place on Jericho Path in Falmouth Heights.  The icy exit from the mall was more of a challenge than I anticipated, and I attempted to muscle my way out of the ice and snow.  For the record, that’s never a good idea.  We wound up getting hung up in a snow bank, the wheels of my Volkswagen spinning helplessly as a seeming mountain of snow and ice peaked under my car.  After what seemed like hours of frantic digging with frozen, trembling hands, we had made nary a dent in freeing my car from its frozen restraints.  This was before cell phones enjoyed today’s omnipresence, so our frozen hands were sure to be met with an equally chilly reception when we returned home to a couple of assuredly perturbed mates.

Just as our efforts seemed as futile as a speaking time limit on Rich Latimer at Town Meeting, a white van rolled by, its cheerful driver looking on with a mix of interest and humor.  I didn’t know the motorist, but he nonetheless hopped out and offered his help.  I was never so happy to see a winch in my life.  The good Samaritan tied up his mini-crane to my car and pulled it effortlessly out of the snowbank, saving Ronnie D and I both from certain trouble, if not a night on the couch.  He asked for nothing in return and refused our offers of remuneration, simply parting with a smile and a “good luck.” 

That good Samaritan was current Town Hall gadfly Marc Finneran.  I share this story because it has been a reoccurring thought in my head as Marc’s latest donnybrook with DPW Director Ray Jack was publicized and debated.  Over the last several years, starting with his distasteful “This town needs an enema” sign on his lawn, Marc’s disdain for our local government and its governors has been apparent and widely noted.  In delivering his criticisms, he has been sometimes brash, usually vigorous, and always confrontational.  His message of good government and accountable government officials has been lost in his delivery.

I am faced, though, with two quandaries when analyzing this situation.  The first is that some of Marc’s points, messages, and questions are valid, and we can’t simply dismiss his points because of his flawed delivery.  When he offers a mocking reminder that we were told that the transfer station could make money “in a heartbeat,” he’s right.  When he raises vehement opposition to the way the town’s dirty water situation was handled, he’s right.  It’s simply contrary to good government if we ignore the validity and importance of his points because he acts badly. The second, and related, struggle for me is that my wintry experience with Marc nearly twenty years ago proved to me that he is a kind and decent man, willing to help a stranger.  Could it be that years of being thwarted and ignored by local officials has contributed to his delivery?  It’s certainly a question worth pondering. 

The nature of discourse and public debate, both locally and nationally, has become bogged down in personalities, personal attacks and ready-for-tv sound bites.  We must separate the message from the messenger and focus on the solutions.  Ignoring the message because of the delivery and distaste for the messenger results in decay and deterioration – in both our ability to solve the problems and in the public trust. 

It’s time to separate the message from the messenger and solve some problems.

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