Kauaians on their way to civil discourse

Several hundred years ago, a famous French woman was oblivious to how the world

was changing around her and ended up losing her head over a casual quip to “Let

them eat cake.”

We hope our newspaper knows its world history. Our

community has never responded well to an “eat cake” spin on editorial policy,

and a return to that now could not be more ill-timed, given the new momentum in

our island’s civic affairs.

Kauaians get plenty carrots we like to chew on

before we get to the cake, that’s why.

Most notably, we are learning how to

engage in civil discourse and get all of our island stakeholders and “citizen

experts” around the table and focused on consensual strategies for dealing with

any one of our many challenges.

At this transformational moment, the last

thing we need is our local newspaper tacking right into an ill wind that blows

cynically across the luffing sails of Kauaian community initiative. What’s the

point of “energy and spunk”- as one inbound reporter paraphrased his new Kaua`i

marching orders- if it masks our deeper challenges and forestalls their


So, call this one columnist’s counterspin for less cake, more


Sure, sometimes our community discourse is messy- nay, downright

ugly. Still, we might better call it growing pains rather than generic


In recent years, we have spent more and more time listening

closely to each other’s opposing views in various community struggles from

Ha`ena to Kekaha. Week in and week out, both in this space and on the KKCR talk

show, we unearth evidence that Kauaians are “getting it.” After we blow off

some steam, we’re ready to get down to business.

On one level, Kauaians do

not really care if other folks agree with them on these community issues, or

not. All we can reasonably do is clearly express our own viewpoints and be sure

we understand the views of others.

We may have little time for

reactionaries or gossips, yet we welcome more civil dialogue. Recall that Bob

Mullins put this goal at the center of his vision for Kaua`i when he was

featured (TGI, Jan. 3) as someone shaping our island future.

We pride

ourselves on being able to talk with anyone as equals. It makes us better

citizens, letter writers, talk show participants, and, yes, better


True, some of our more outrageous “flamers,” to use a web chat

expression, may need to be reminded that ad hominem attacks represent the

lowest form of debate and that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood,” as the

Bible proclaims.

Yet, there is no need to scurry around protecting special

interests, or smoothing over differences, or painting island life with a happy

face. Unless these special interests are truly bad people who morally deserve

to be exposed, the newspaper’s role is to dispassionately bring their

viewpoints to the table along with others.

They know that. It is an


Can we talk? That is the question.

The Kauaian answer to this

question is emphatically affirmative.

Many attentive Kauaians are having

their civil discourse on-line; our e-mail stays busy. Neighborhood associations

and other community-based orgs around the island are making exhilarating

strides in process management, running inclusive meetings that forge consensus

and prompt broad buy-in. Look at recent progress in the Heritage River Hanalei

Hui, or the Nawiliwili Bay Watershed Council, or the newly revived Kekaha


And, never mind those who cite the Kaua’i Island Utilities

Cooperative debacle as contrary evidence. The fat lady has not sung yet on that

one, and truly collaborative efforts on Kaua’i Electric acquisition may only

now be possible-after lots of steam has been blown off.

Can we all agree to

stop thinking old thoughts here? Give ourselves more credit. Lift our


Look closely, again, and you may agree. If civil discourse is the

goal, Kauaians are halfway home already. Feels good.

Stick with the cakes

of concealment, if you like. Most Kauaians are going for the carrots of


Ken Stokes can be reached at kaimiau@hotmail.com


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