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Front Page » June 3, 2008 » Opinion » Staff column: Politics destroy the ordered world
Published 2,365 days ago

Staff column: Politics destroy the ordered world


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By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate publisher


When I was a kid I admired the adult world and what it stood for. Of course I didn't always agree with the rules adults put down for me to follow, but for the most part I saw the grown up world in a light of order and logic.

I looked forward to the day of being an adult, where bullies didn't rule the playground, jocks weren't the most popular people around and immaturity was a thing of the past.

During those days I had teachers who encouraged us about our futures. They told us we could be anything we wanted to be if we worked hard enough. I watched the adult world and thought someday I might like to be an archaeologist, a history teacher or maybe even a writer. I remember exploring those professions by reading and getting information from teachers. I was probably about 12 at the time and the things I learned about those professions talked about science, technique and skill.

But the thing none of the literature, books or films I watched, or individuals I talked with told me about, was how politics affects every profession.

Since then, of course, I have learned the awful truth. Politics in every line of work is more important than what you know. Politics takes up more of your time than actually doing your work does. Politics destroys the order that I saw in the adult world of work as a child.

The archaeologist, most of whom are employed by some type of government agency, needs to worry more about where their funding will come from to do their projects than they do about whether they can find the truth about ancient peoples. They have to be careful not to step on individuals toes who might be in charge of the dollars that run their programs. Some have to be careful that their research doesn't cross a line in finding information that will offend the sensitivities of those that provide them their sustinance. They have to be careful they don't step on the toes of more powerful people in their field, who could bring down their careers. Disprove someone's pet theory, and who knows what could happen.

They have to be sure that one government agency or another isn't slighted by their findings. And if they are working in the private sector they can be caught between a rock and a hard spot; knowing what the science says but knowing that those that employ them want a certain version of the truth reported to the outside world.

And so it goes.

The teacher faces a different set of political obstacles. While wanting to teach and help kids to learn they must also be a lawyer. Activities and things we took for granted in school as kids, no longer can take place; we might make someone feel slighted or hurt their esteem.

Teachers today are never right in the eyes of many parents. That's very different from when I was in school. Today when a kid gets a D it is the teacher's fault; in those days it was the kid's fault for not doing what he should do.

Teachers today have become proctors in a never ending round of testing mandated by the state and the federal government; tests arranged by people who sit in big offices in government and corporate buildings who never stood in front of a classroom. People who think that educating kids is the same as running a factory or a car dealership. If teachers don't teach for the test, they will not survive.

And, as a teacher, if you step on the wrong toes in a community, be sure that you will no longer have a job within a short time. This has always been the case to a certain extent, but today it is more extreme than ever. Tell a rich or powerful family's kid he isn't going to play first string on a sports team, be first chair in the orchestra, or be on the number one debate team at the school and watch what happens.

I can't remember what the issue was, but years ago when I worked at Granite School District in Salt Lake the board of education made a decision on an issue and it was an unpopular one. One of the people that worked for me at the time came into my office and asked me about that decision; she made some strong logical points about how the board had voted just opposite of what had made real sense for the district to do. Then she asked me why they voted the way they did.

"Boards of agencies often don't vote logically on many issues," I told her. "They vote politically."

And so it goes.

So instead of becoming an archaeologist or a teacher, I became a writer. But if there is anything that is more affected by politics than either of the other professions I considered, it is working in the field of providing information to the public.

As a kid I thought it would be simple. You interview someone, you cover an event or you report on a meeting. The truth is the truth, isn't it?

Well as you grow up, and especially when you become a writer, you find that everyone is trying to influence you. Some people do it negatively by threatening you or undermining you with others.

Other individuals will woo you and try to get you on their side.

Not all of this is bad. There are certainly a lot of good and positive stories out there. But people want their version of the story told, not necessarily the one that should be reported.

It's hard to make friends as a writer, particularly if you are going to be independent enough to report the truth about things. Everyone has has good and bad in them; some have good hearts, but bad practices. Other people are just evil, but they hide it well. And everyone you meet eyes you with a bit of skepticism as to why you are there or what your motives are when they find out you are a writer.

All the writer can do is report what he or she finds; the truth as he or she sees it based on what they observe around them and find through research they have done.

Most people say they are for a free press; that is until the press wants to report something about them or someone they care about. Then they want to see things restricted or manipulated.

That's the realism of politics in what would otherwise be an orderly world.


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June 3, 2008
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