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Moderation A Refreshing Voice To Hear

Sun., March 15, 1998, midnight

Let’s hear a quiet cheer for the voices of moderation.

Many other voices are heard these days speaking up for their rights, their complaints and their demands.

With the dawn arise the Limbaugh wannabes on the radio.

At bedtime appears Jerry Springer and the yelling, screaming and swearing horde that defines his TV show.

Running in between is a river of hot talk from newsmakers:

The hateful voice of Richard Butler, Aryan Nations leader, who seeks a parade permit in Coeur d’Alene on Hitler’s birthday;

The incite-a-riot voice of Irv Rubin, Jewish Defense League professional agitator from California, who wants to come to Idaho to give Butler a bloody nose.

The lost temper phone mail voice of Spokane Sen. Jim West who calls a political lobbyist an SOB and then threatens the man’s political life.

Behind these celebrity voices rumble the many public hearings and debates that often end up sounding like a bunch of sixth-graders in a gym after the principal gets called away.

When everybody turns up the volume, it can be hard for anyone to hear. Or listen. Or even know what is being said.

How refreshing, then, to pick up some voices of moderation amid the din of controversy.

Take Dick Harris, for example.

Harris is superintendent of schools in Post Falls. In the final days before this week’s crucial bond vote on needed improvements at Post Falls High School, Harris has engaged parents who want creationism taught in schools as an alternative to evolution.

It could have been ugly.

It wasn’t.

Harris listened to the creationist parents. He asked them for an example of how a creationism lesson plan might look. He requested legal opinions from the Idaho attorney general and the Idaho School Boards Association on how to proceed. He sought the opinions of local clergy.

And he did it with a quiet voice, a measured response, and even a smile.

If he doesn’t win a forensics medal, he should at least be rewarded with a yes vote on the Post Falls bonds.

In nearby Coeur d’Alene, new mayor Steve Judy has done his best to be a voice of moderation about the proposed Aryan Nations parade and possible protest against it by the Jewish Defense League.

In recent days, Judy has made clear that he understands the constitutional right to peaceful assembly that even Aryan separatists have.

When a second request for a parade permit came from the Jewish Defense League, Judy walked the moderate line and denied this permit, noting it made no sense to grant two parade permits for the same day when it was likely the two groups would taunt, tease or tangle with one another.

The discipline needed to be a voice of moderation doesn’t come easily nor is it often rewarded.

The voice of moderation doesn’t shout that it should be the only voice.

The voice of moderation humbly accepts differences of opinion.

Since a pure world free of confrontation, differences and the muddy middle ground isn’t possible, the voice of moderation opts to work with reality.

A base of reality doesn’t feel as secure as a base of faith, ideology or power.

Working from the middle out to the edges opens a leader or moderator to attack from both sides.

Too often, the voice of reason is often confused with wimpiness.

In truth, trying to maintain a degree of order, openness and decorum in the face of withering criticism or disagreement requires skill and courage.

Few would envy the public challenges ahead for Dick Harris in Post Falls and Steve Judy in Coeur d’Alene.

Balancing the teaching of creationism and evolution in schools will be difficult.

Defending the rights of hate groups to free speech and protecting the public will tax the best minds and calmest heads.

But these difficult issues also pose incredible opportunities for individuals and communities.

Learning how to handle these sensitive, explosive issues in a way that doesn’t divide and destroy a community will build a civic skeleton strong as an athlete’s frame.

It will be a workout.

But it can be done if people will explore the issues in their churches, schools and public institutions. The people will need voices of moderation to navigate through the discussion.

If these voices can prevail, the result will be stronger communities and better citizens who haven’t sold out to the inflamed word or deed.

, DataTimes MEMO: Chris Peck is the editor of The Spokesman-Review. His column appears each Sunday on Perspective.

Chris Peck is the editor of The Spokesman-Review. His column appears each Sunday on Perspective.


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