This week I started the fall semester after a summer hiatus from teaching at the University of Tampa. We never fully left the classroom, there was always a limited in-person amount of instruction over the last year, but we are back at 100% classroom capacity.
We are, however, still masked. This doesn’t bother me, but the mask does block certain facial cues and changes the emphasis needed on what I’m saying to properly communicate a message.
Because a caustic sarcastic remark can’t be disarmed with a smile nor can a comedically hyperbolic statement be punctuated with a deadpan gaze, the effectiveness of communication rests almost entirely on tone.
The importance of tone can’t be understated. Republican social media feeds are filled with various graphics that long for the days of mean tweets. This sentiment is affectionate, and borderline humorous, but does demonstrate what people remember most for better or worse about the previous presidency: the tone.
Citrus County is teetering on the verge of changing its community tone. The editorial section was filled this week with both letters and sound offs, some days running several pages longer than what is usually printed. On the surface, this is a good thing no matter the tone although I argue that all submitted content should be attributed rather than have the option to be anonymous.
But a change is happening in this reader submitted content. Some of it is good. People are taking an interest in their local affairs, particularly when the truth-in-millage (TRIM) notices went out and when the announcement of the stormwater runoff fee was made.
Most of it is not. Who we blame for a problem is becoming more important than how we fix it. On Sunday, I wrote about enduring hope even in times of crisis. Headlines, even those about statewide, national and international events, don’t diminish my hope in the direction of our country. The comments on social media and some columnists, however, do at least shake that hope.
Never in my adult life, albeit a short one so far, do I remember a time when the political divide seemed to be defined so clearly yet contradictory. The divide has always existed. That part is normal. But now it seems to be that you either have to prove you love America by hating Americans or prove you love Americans by hating America.
It is demonstrated through outright profanity toward the Office of the President as much as it is careless labels assumed then assigned to strangers, neighbors and even family members. This is a direction I am unwilling to accept, and one I think many people intend to change.
Locally, though, we’re on the wrong track.
The direction of the communication from the Commission is unlikely to improve as Commissioner Ron Kitchen is poised to take over as chairman this November. I align with Commissioner Kitchen philosophically more than any other member of the Board but even I can admit as someone who feels most represented by him that his demeanor can often be described charitably as off-putting and realistically as outright condescending.
Commissioner Holly Davis was briefly exiting last meeting, which a previous column incorrectly speculated may have been in reaction to critical comments Chairman Scott Carnahan had said toward her - the two were unrelated - but as she stepped out she did dismissively throw her hands out toward the direction of Commissioner Kitchen’s voice who continued the criticism over the loudspeaker as he called into the meeting from home. Her action was justified, and personally appreciated, as the point had been made from the leader of the group requiring no follow up.
This puts the burden of setting the tone on the fourth estate. Newspapers can, and should, act as thought-leaders in their opinion sections. The Chronicle certainly did until recently. It needs to find its voice again.
The Sunday columns, a sacred day for public affairs commentary, have been reduced to multiple apologies for disruptions in service. Executive editor Jeff Bryan is a talented writer, but whose columns so far have lacked the grit, substance and confidence to lead a community.
Nationally, we have seen the tone toward one another deteriorate and locally we are at a tipping point without a clear thought-leader to move the tone into a better direction. Whether it comes from one of the cities (Mayor Joe Meek perhaps) or the county (my bet is on Commissioner Davis) or the Chronicle again regains its confidence, we need someone to step up.