Opinion and Forefront

MACALLISTER: Early CIB is model for civil discourse

February 2, 2013

MacAllisterThe element of controversy that clogs political debate, embitters theologians and fosters ethnic bitterness is surely as familiar to us as Cain and Abel. King Solomon in 950 B.C. acknowledged its damage—and its danger—when he pleaded with his subjects, “Come then, let us reason together” (though, like many “well-meaners,” he was better in advising than complying).

Given the clumsiness encountered through conflicting convictions, let’s grant, too, that there can be a resulting benefit. Opposing viewpoints force us to examine new ideas and re-examine our own, producing a better option. The rub comes not necessarily from the issue but from how we manage the interchange.

It converts to an Achilles’ heel when rebuttal challenges the motive, sanity, patriotism or intelligence of he or she who disagrees, sliding from principles to personalities and derailing the exercise.

“What you are speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you are saying.” (I think that is Emerson.) The visceral reaction has pre-empted the cerebral process and now resolution dangles helplessly.

I probably learn more from listening than talking, especially when engaged with those not singing from my hymnal. He or she who jolts me with a contradictory proposal just might bring about new understanding. It is foolish to like one’s own ideas so well that he has no room for new ones. Beyond which, only through interchange can we alter opinions and make conversions in the other camp.

The primary focus, especially in political discussion, ought to be the result, not adherence to the party stance or platform. Getting even is an exercise lacking benefit and demonstrating lack of character.

We might learn something here from businesspeople who are engaged in a perpetual struggle. They know the price of failure is oblivion, and quickly learn success is not achieved by denigrating or insulting competition.

It comes from performance, from providing a superior service. Getting it done better than the competitor is what wins the shootout, and that means a good product and superior staff, assuring A-plus performance.

It makes one wonder: If we had better employees in government, would we have a better product?

Conflict lurks in the situations because of the “silo complex”—agencies, departments, bodies vying for funds, power, pre-eminence, authority. Wrong focus.

How do we support the total entity? What is the criterion? This is evident in our shop, where we pay on corporate results—namely how the company, not the department, performs. This concept that zeros in on the big picture can work in government, as well.

I cite the Capital Improvement Board as an example—an appointed agency with a 4-3 split, the mayor’s party dominant.

In 1971, it built the Indiana Convention Center, meaning that it bought the land, approved structural design, and financed and contracted construction. Since then, it has added three expansions, brought the Colts and added Lucas Oil Stadium, hosted a Super Bowl, etc.

CIB got us into the convention and meeting business big time ($3.9 billion worth last year) because it had a single raison d’etre for the city—namely, how do we bring more people and events to Indy? How do we make this hummer fiscally self-supporting? How do we enhance our national reputation?

Partisan loyalties were pre-empted by the mission.

A stranger, listening to a hundred discussions, would have been unable to identify the political persuasion of a single member of that board from his remarks, his recommendations or voting pattern.

Why can’t this work elsewhere?•

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MacAllister is chairman of MacAllister Machinery Co. Inc. and a longtime leader in Indianapolis Republican politics. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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