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Close encounters: Civil discussions are possible
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Monday, we watched on Facebook Live as the Pawnee County Commissioners discussed quarantine rules, allowing several people in the audience to have their say. Perhaps 200-250 more watched online, sometimes adding input via the chat bar.

The group in the room wanted action and some made it clear that they didn’t agree with giving the commissioners a week – or even a few days – to study the issue. It’s too bad that the commissioners caved to that pressure and voted 2-1 that day to rewrite quarantine guidelines. But they did promise to revisit the issue next week, so if Monday’s decision was a mistake it can be remedied.

And if the decision was the right one, after all, they accomplished the goal earlier than if they’d waited.

The goal was to allow kids to get back to school more quickly if they’ve been in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19. (It’s not just about schools, but that was what prompted the debate. Some students are on their second 14-day quarantine and their parents think that’s overkill.) New rule: if the “close contact” and the person who tested positive were both wearing two-ply masks, the “contact” doesn’t have to quarantine.

An interesting aspect of the Larned meeting was that people were civil. You’d think that would not be newsworthy but people in the chat started commenting on it and one person wrote that she was proud of Pawnee County.

It isn’t that way when Gov. Laura Kelly gives her weekly updates on COVID-19. No one in the room is interrupting her, but the folks in the chat “peanut gallery” are downright abusive and surely not listening as they compose their insults.

The difference with the Pawnee County group is that the people at the meeting are neighbors. They know each other, or at least know that this person owns a local business, this one is a pastor in town, and that one is a paramedic who might need to save a loved one’s life someday. That doesn’t mean that the meeting couldn’t have turned ugly. We are starting to consider contentious snarky comments as the norm – but we shouldn’t.

Centuries ago, Chinese philosopher Confucius suggested, “Do not impose on others what you do not wish for yourself.” Insults and mockery can also be found from ancient times and they can serve a purpose. As the saying goes, “sacred cows make the tastiest hamburger.” Even so, our neighbors at all levels are trying to figure out the best way to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Respectful, civil discourse is, indeed, refreshing. As we saw Monday, it can also be persuasive.