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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

When Silence Is Not Always Golden

People’s court of opinion should not be discouraged

When people don’t feel heard, the negative effects ripple through nearly every aspect of their lives, from personal growth to meaningful relationships to overall well-being.

Consider when a spouse feels unheard in their marriage. When one partner constantly dismisses or ignores the concerns of the other, it creates a sense of isolation and frustration. Over time, this lack of communication erodes the foundation of trust and intimacy, leading to a breakdown in the relationship.

Or what about at work? Employees who believe their opinions and ideas are not valued become disengaged and unmotivated. This lack of morale and enthusiasm necessarily impacts overall productivity and innovation within the organization.

In the realm of customer service, failing to listen to customers’ needs and concerns can also have severe consequences. When customers are met with indifference, they feel undervalued and will simply take their business elsewhere.

This same principle applies to government, as well.

So when voters recently filled the chamber at the Shreveport City Council meeting where reversing the smoking ban in casinos was being considered, there was undoubtedly the proverbial “opportunity to be heard.” There were doctors, former city council members, casino workers, former casino workers, business owners and concerned citizens alike, who all spoke out, mostly in favor of leaving the casino smoking ban in place (that had already been in effect for two years).

So, 90 minutes of public comments later and the vote was taken – with only one city council member uttering a single word beforehand – and then it was all over.

The vote was 4-2 for reversing the smoke-free ordinance and allowing smoking once again in casinos. In doing so, Shreveport became the first city in Louisiana, and the first in the nation since 2008, to roll back smoke-free workplace protections.

Some of you may agree this reversal was unnecessary and cite health concerns. Others may say smoking in casinos is needed so that casinos in Shreveport can compete with the casinos in Bossier City, where there is no smoking ban. Others might argue whether or not lifting the smoking ban addresses any compelling public interest or the message this sends the business community that doing business here is unpredictable. Others may say this isn’t government’s role in the first place.

And we can certainly debate those issues. The more significant issue going forward is whether or not we have a city council made up of elected officials more concerned with their own interests than the people’s. For example, on this smoking ban issue, did the people feel “heard” by their elected officials?

And by “heard,” I mean, was anyone listening? I mean, really listening and paying attention – not just hearing the words, but absorbing their meaning? Or were the councilmembers’ minds already made up before the public comments even started?

This is important because whether it’s a city, a family, a church, etc., when voices feel ignored or silenced, it perpetuates inequality and unrest. When folks don’t feel their opinions or perspectives matter, they will shy away from speaking up at all. As Pastor Andy Stanley put it, “Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.”

And when that happens, important issues go unaddressed. The needs of the community are left unmet. Silence then allows for apathy to take hold and complacency to breed. The status quo remains unchallenged, and the actions of elected officials go unchecked and unaccounted for.

Maybe that’s the intended plan of some elected officials. But make no mistake: When voters don’t feel heard by their elected officials, it represents a profound failure of leadership by those elected officials, eroding the foundation of trust between the leaders and the people they represent. And without trust, you’ll struggle as a leader to build a consensus of any kind.

Some members of this city council should be reminded, as Calvin Coolidge put it, “The first duty of a leader is to listen.”

And you know what? Maybe then the people just might be heard.

Louis R. Avallone is a Shreveport businessman, attorney and author of “Bright Spots, Big Country, What Makes America Great.” He is also a former aide to U.S. Representative Jim McCrery and editor of The Caddo Republican. His columns have appeared regularly in 318 Forum since 2007. Follow him on Facebook, on Twitter @louisravallone or by e-mail at louisavallone@mac.com, and on American Ground Radio at 101.7FM and 710 AM, weeknights from 6 - 7 p.m., and streaming live on keelnews.com.


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