Opinion: Diversity is Good. In Politics Too!

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One of the characteristics that attract many of us to Maplewood is the diversity of its residents. We are as diverse a community as you will find anywhere.

Our racial and ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, occupations, ages, marital status all work together to create a proverbial melting pot that in reality is a robust mix of different opinions and beliefs.

I remember attending one of my early block parties in town.  It was Woodland Road and at the time I was employed by a large corporation and commuted to NYC Monday through Friday in my “gray flannel suit.”  Upon arriving home from the block party I remember feeling surprisingly and pleasantly out of place.  Here I was a businessperson who was straight, married, and a father of four. My neighbors were entrepreneurs, actors, doctors, single, married, straight, gay, atheists, agnostics, Christians, Jews …

Clearly I was the odd ball.  And it was amazing!

Twenty-five years later it is extremely gratifying to have friends, and four children with circles of friends, that are incredibly diverse.

How do we mine this rich diversity? How do we gain the most from having a life experience in this town so different from so many other places? I have come to believe the best way to benefit from this experience is to make sure I listen to “learn,” rather than listen to “evaluate.”

Listening to learn means I am willing to reconsider any of my own beliefs, truth, and even “facts” based on what others have to say – especially people who have different backgrounds and beliefs than my own.  This does not mean I will change my beliefs, but I may change my beliefs because I have a genuine willingness to reconsider these beliefs in light of what I learn from our differences.  The magic is that when I do this I often learn and evolve my thinking and beliefs.

As I approach the age of 60, I am also realizing this development may be one of the keys to maintaining my vitality!

Recently, I have observed and written about the one-sided view demonstrated by our elected representatives on the Maplewood Township Committee.

I am alarmed that our elected representatives have voted unanimously 95% of the time (301 out of 317 votes) over the past two years. (To determine the actual voting record I pored through all of the available meeting minutes posted on the Township website, manually tabulating the numbers that resulted in that fact.) While some votes deal with routine administrative matters, e.g., approving bill payments and town employee contracts, other votes concern major real estate proposals shaping the future of our town.

The uniformity of the TC’s voting record begs the question, where is the diversity of thinking in their decision-making?  If the current Township Committee votes unanimously 95% of the time, how can they be representing — and giving voice to the differing opinions, thoughts, and beliefs of such a diverse community?

I place significant responsibility for this not only on our elected representatives, but also on each of us. Why? Consider this:

How many of us will vote on Tuesday?  A news blurb on the radio today predicted the lowest national voter turnout ever for an election.  This, while people in many countries are literally dying for the right to have their voices heard, to dissent, and to vote. Consider voting this year. Set an example for your kids and your family.

If you do go to the polls, will you vote based on a candidate’s beliefs or solely on the letter next to his or her name — D or R or I? Consider finding one compelling reason “why” you are voting for a candidate rather than simply registering your vote for a party.

Finally, consider how beneficial it would be to have disparate opinions discussed in public before our elected representatives made key decisions. I believe it would lead to better decisions for our community, and better representation of what we as diverse members of this community believe. If they all think the same, isn’t one of our elected representatives expendable?

Consider voting for Independent Kurt Kiley on Tuesday for the Maplewood Township Committee.  In addition to being a good person, Kurt Kiley will provide an alternative view that can only help keep Maplewood extra-ordinary.

John Harvey is a 30-year+ resident who has viewed Maplewood as a dad, a corporate commuter, a village entrepreneur, and as a home-based leadership consultant. He can be reached at johnharveyt2p@gmail.com or 862-216-2425.

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