Friday, November 10, 2023

Joe Kellner: Hope for the future

By Joe Kellner

I am writing this as I wrap up my first ever campaign for an elected position in which I’m running for RSU 14 School Board. I am writing this prior to the election, but by the time this is published, it will be behind us with the outcomes likely known. I write to share some of my observations and hopes for the future.

Joe Kellner was elected Tuesday to a
three-year term on the RSU 14
Board of Directors.
These observations are mine and mine alone, shared not because I feel one iota superior to anyone else, but rather because I hope to start a dialogue. I felt compelled to write this after my experience campaigning where I spent a lot of time talking to individuals with hugely varying views and mindsets. I want to thank those that took the time to support my campaign – the unsolicited outpouring was truly moving. I also want to sincerely thank all those voters and community members that have taken the time to talk to me regardless of whether or not you chose to vote for me. Anyway, here goes:

When it comes to policymaking and government in our country, I believe we’re inherently structured for divisiveness and disagreement. We are poorly structured to accomplish anything truly meaningful. Of course, we do accomplish good things from time to time, but I often feel it happens despite ourselves. This is less true at the local level and becomes progressively more toward the national level. Where we see the best policy that tends to get made is in non-partisan bodies.

We predominately live in a two-party system. Each of these parties has a general core fundamental set of ideals and beliefs. More importantly when it comes to how policymakers get elected in partisan races, the parties come with vast sums of money. Candidates, in order to access these coffers, must generally get in line with what the party feels is the right “set” of principles and by declaring their ongoing allegiance. Success in a large race will often come down to “get in line” or “be irrelevant.” The money in politics, at its core, inhibits good policymaking and creates tremendous propensity to pick a polar side. This is why we almost never see strong and formidable independent candidates.

We, on the outside of this day-to-day reality, are profoundly influenced by this. The ads we see and the news we watch or read is often the result of incredible spending by groups that endorse candidates or support certain ideals, and seldom by those who would welcome compromise toward good policy that moves us forward. Our views and beliefs should be a-la-carte – in other words choosing those beliefs that we most align with based on our experiences and value systems - regardless of which party may support those ideals. One could, for example, support both universal healthcare and small government even though the “institution” tells you that’s a faux pas.

It's wild how much this has changed in the last 50 years. Presidential elections, for example, used to regularly be won by enormous margins in one direction or another (check out Reagan or Clinton round 1 as examples). We didn’t feel we had to always vote with our team and make decisions based on our own thoughts and values. What happened? In my opinion, vast sums of money and social media.

Our nation (and in many respects our community) has become disturbingly divided. We have picked sides. We have dug our heels in focusing on an opposing team mentality vs. a diverse group of mindsets coming together to find the common good. I also think social media has harmed us. It remains true that a Facebook comment debate changes few, if any, minds – you’re almost definitely wasting your time. The dopamine hit from that zinger of a good comment really serves to accomplish nothing positive in the long run. With respect to social media, if you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product. Sure, it can be a good tool, but know its dangers and limitations.

I encourage you to take some time to turn off MSNBC or Fox News (or insert your favorite information sources here). Much like national politics, those are all about money, too. Getting you to keep watching and to feel something while doing it is how they get ratings – how the hosts get paid their millions upon millions. If you don’t want to do that, at least occasionally change the channel to the opposite one and truly listen. Try to understand how those that don’t think the same way as you are feeling. This will either help you better understand your own value set or maybe even shift your thinking on some beliefs you’ve held. With the degree of influence we encounter within our lives, it takes an active process to distill various pieces of information to form thoughts and opinions that are our own.

Through my work in healthcare, one of the key principles we employ is never judging a patient. We have no idea what they’re going through, and everyone is going through something. In our relatively short time on this Earth, a fact we have been unfortunately reminded of recently, let’s find time to be kind to one another. We have no idea what each other is going through or have experienced. As simple as this sounds, let’s talk to each other – have a real conversation – you may be surprised at what you learn. When you have that conversation, practice really listening, and do it with openness to being persuaded, the long-term benefit is clear. Also remember that while value sets may be different, and there are of course exceptions, the vast majority of people have truly good and sincere intentions.

I want to see us work together to do better. We can find common ground. We can make good policy. Asking good questions is far more productive than declaring strong opinions. Most importantly, we can re-learn to disagree respectfully and enjoy each other’s company while we grow and progress together.

I have no idea if, by the time you read this, I will be an elected official or just some guy that looks vaguely familiar at the supermarket. Regardless of that answer, I end with a question – will you join me? <

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