perception stains

I find it interesting how my reflexive tendencies for righteous irreverence is both celebrated and reviled in the community. The difference is usually whether a person agrees with me or not. If they do, they thank me for my courage to state what so many others have been too polite to say publicly. If they don’t, they chastise my lack of respect for social conventions.

I agree that civil society is enabled by accepting that there are times when inconsequential truths are best hidden for the sake of being nice. But when the threat of offending others intimidates accountability on issues more important than simple social graces, should manners continue to hide honesty? I usually refuse to yield to that social code.

Unfortunately, this instinct is simultaneously a strength and a weakness. It has enabled me to achieve goals that others had considered impossible. But in some people, it also generated a negative emotional reaction strong enough to remain long after the memory of exactly what I had said was lost. In the end, many people appreciate the outcome but harbour resentment toward me for making them feel so uncomfortable at the outset.

A perfect example is my work on smoke-free public spaces. When I started talking about the issue in 2006, there was near consensus that my suggestions were ridiculous and an embarrassment to City Council. However, as public dialogue progressed, public opinion reversed. Many of the people who now claim they were in support of smoke-free spaces all along are not shy in discrediting my judgement as a leader. The memory of the discomfort they felt when I first raised the issue remains as a stain on their perception of me even though they now agree with what I had said.

I have yet to learn how to navigate society’s expectations of manners so I can achieve positive change without a negative emotional residue.

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