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Owens: Collaboration, transparency keys to balance, civic health

At the very foundation of our democracy lies the idea that we work together for the greater good. This presupposes that we all get to take an active role as citizens.

So, when that’s threatened, you hear a lot of grumbling. You’ve undoubtedly heard about it in this newspaper this week when businesses decried the way in which a major text amendment for zoning was submitted to the Metropolitan Planning Commission without input from stakeholders and the public.

That unpleasantness has only served as impetus for the community to sharpen the pencil, reach across the aisle, and look at problems we can solve together.

It reminds me of something similar that happened recently to the Savannah arts community when it was surprised to learn that funding from the city of Savannah had dried up, without any warning.

But the arts community used that momentum to join together and be a stronger, unified voice. I’ve said it before in this column — a healthy art scene is an important gauge of Savannah’s civic health, and I would certainly argue that the arts community is stronger now than before.

Recently, the community partnered with the Department of Cultural Affairs to participate in Americans for the Arts’ Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 study. The study show that in Chatham County, $135.9 million in total economic activity and 4,548 full-time equivalent jobs was generated.

The business community should look to our arts and culture nonprofits as an example. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in the business world or not, decisions that are happening on a local level must have your input.

We should look at data, not just feelings. We should educate ourselves on the topic and speak out. We should listen more, and with an open mind, confidently walk toward a solution that benefits all.

On the flip side, our local governments should listen. They should consider stakeholders and the public’s viewpoints. It should be a lengthy, transparent process that leads to a better way for our community.

With this process, no matter where you stand on an issue, you will experience wins and losses. Good collaboration is often hallmarked by all sides getting something.

The things we have to steer clear from are the fallacies in our discussions as we come together to work collaboratively. This takes critical thinking, discipline and self-awareness. It also takes the ability to recognize and call out when something is a fallacy.

I’ll give you an example of a fallacy called the ad hominem. We see it on social media a lot these days, where someone attacks the person instead of disagreeing with their views. For example, one person writes, “I believe we need fewer widgets in our cog.” The commenter replies, “You don’t know anything about widgets.” Instead of engaging in a discussion to find out why the writer wants fewer cogs, the commenter attacks the person. This type of discourse gets us nowhere in coming up with common ground. It’s easy fodder that gets a lot of people riled up and increases your interaction on social media, which in this instance, is not mistakenly, a positive.

There are dozens of fallacies and we must guard against them, as they only serve to divide. You can find a free, printable poster with 24 fallacies and their explanation at www.yourlogicalfallacyis.com.

It’s time to get to work. Let’s craft a vision together and let this bump in the road propel us toward more collaboration.

Michael Owens is president/CEO of the Tourism Leadership Council, the largest nonprofit trade organization that supports and represents the tourism community. Contact Owens at michael@tourismleadershipcouncil.com or 912-232-1223.

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