Friday, April 26, 2013

The enemy of my enemy

"Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer," we are told, as well as, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."  Nothing like old proverbs to heighten suspicion and paranoia.

This week, I was greeted warmly by a village trustee as I arrived at the board meeting on Wednesday.  After I delivered a joint statement about why it's not okay to manipulate pay for political reasons, I wonder how many of the trustees now consider me an "enemy."

The fact that I don't believe in intra-term pay changes for elected officials, even when it involves sticking it to a mayor who decided I had categorized him "friend" and decided he'd rather have me in the "enemy" column, apparently puzzled them.  I'd been opposed to last year's pay hikes, so maybe they thought that I'd agree that two wrongs make a right.  After all, I was told, they have to set the pay during the budget process.

No one has explained to me why they have to change pay for officials whose terms aren't expiring at the end of the current budget year, though, or why we don't have a law expressly forbidding that practice.  (I think I differ from some of those who decried the pay cuts in that, if they had only applied to the two trustee seats with terms expiring this year, I would have had no objection.)

But I'm digressing when should be just placing my thoughts in context.  My theme for today is enemies.

I understand better where I erred with Jason West, in that helps me understand all these petty political fights a bit better.  My insight comes from studying the Delphic maxims, wisdom which has been handed down from the ancient Greeks.  One of the maxims can be translated as:
"If you are a stranger, act like one."
The Hellenes considered people to be friends, enemies, or strangers.  The latter were treated with cautious courtesy, such that a stranger knocking on the door would be given food, drink, and a chance to wash up before they were even asked their purpose.  Friends were people you could trust, and enemies had interests which were counter to your own.

I didn't see it at the time, but I gave West the impression that I thought we were friends, when we were strangers.  I try to be kind and courteous whenever I can, always guarding against the inner Long Islander who is more than capable of being . . . well, let's call it forthright and outspoken.  Maybe I tried too hard not to come off as a jerk, and in his mind, tipped it the other way.  Presuming friendship too quickly is a mistake, as is treating someone as an enemy when it's undeserved.  Both happened here.

That kind of balancing act -- determining if we are friends, enemies, or simply strangers -- happens all the time.  That village trustee, who greeted me so warmly this past Wednesday night?  That trustee expressed gratitude that I had a sewer line again . . . after saying nothing publicly to help that happen.  Is that silence the action of a friend, or simply a stranger?

Now, I may be categorized by some of the trustees as an enemy because I told them that I disagreed with them on an issue, and I did it even though the main victim of their actions hasn't treated me with the courtesy that any village resident should expect of his mayor.

That's because I am loathe to classify someone as an enemy myself (a lesson that didn't come quickly), and I prefer to get people off that list as quickly as possible.  I'm even more reluctant to consider someone a friend.

Imagine how politics in New Paltz might function if we looked at each other as strangers, rather than as friends and enemies.  Strangers can't betray one another, because we are guarded against them.  Likewise, we don't presume strangers are up to something, so we are more likely to judge their actions and ideas on their own merits, rather than on our bitter, personal histories.

It would make it trickier for the popularity contest we call election day, but I really can't see any downside for the community if we treated each other with guarded courtesy for a change.

No comments: