Riding the Balloon

Riding in a hot air balloon has never been a personal goal for me, but I find it difficult to turn down an invitation from Katie Nooshazar when she asks me to do something. I dutifully found my way to Timber‑Linn Memorial Park this morning at 5:30 a.m. and was connected to the great pilot and crew of the balloon christened “Sew Happy.” My job was to stay out of the way while they prepared the balloon for launch and to listen carefully to instructions about how to act while on the flight. Unlike my last airborne adventure on a commercial jet, I was not reading a novel during the preflight instructions.

The balloon ascended with the pilot, Marianne LeDoux; a fellow passenger; and me as we headed southwest over Interstate 5. I was reassured by my pilot’s 35 years of experience and the glorious morning lighting up Albany and the Willamette Valley. We live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, and it shouldn’t take a balloon ride to make us appreciate it.

I have been parasailing in the past, and I expected the balloon ride to be similar. It wasn’t. Parasailing is incredibly quiet, while ballooning includes conversation, the noise from the burner, and even some sounds from the ground. Any anxiety I might have felt about going up in something that can be blown around by the wind was quickly dispelled by the surrounding beauty and Marianne’s obvious competence.

Albany looks really nice from the air, and it was fun to pick out landmarks as we cruised along at about 15 mph. The rising sun illuminated City Hall, and I appreciated our urban forest when I wasn’t snapping pictures of everything in sight. About 14 other balloons were spread out across the sky as we made our way west toward an eventual landing in a farmer’s field somewhere southwest of Albany. We were told to brace for the landing, but ours was pretty smooth and required no effort from me. We did watch a neighboring balloon bounce into the air a few times, which may have been more thrilling for its occupants.

The Art & Air Festival has turned into a great celebration thanks to the efforts of countless volunteers and some dedicated City staff. Perhaps the most important benefit of the Festival are the friendships it has helped build between people who might otherwise have never met. I know I met some wonderful people who volunteered their time to help people like me appreciate the beauty that surrounds us every day and how important that is to making a community a great place to live.

Thanks, Katie!

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Correcting an Error

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column trying to show support for our police during some turbulent times. We have not experienced most of the problems that large city departments across the U.S. have faced recently, but our officers confront many of same risks inherent to police work. Among the dangers is the need to make split-second decisions about how to react to a potential threat.

I wrote in my column that the murder of police officers in Dallas, Texas, occurred while people were demonstrating “over the deaths of unarmed African-Americans in Minnesota and Louisiana.” My comment was based on news reports I had seen and was not intended to be any kind of judgment about whether those who died were armed or not. I think most of us understand that law enforcement officers sometimes have to use their weapons without knowing if someone is carrying a gun. The men who died in both Minnesota and Louisiana were carrying weapons, and I apologize to anyone who might have been offended by my error. The larger point I was trying to make is that we all share the burden of making our communities safe places to live, and we do little to further that cause by angrily pointing fingers at the police or anyone else.

Last week I wrote about being considerate of others, which, in my opinion, includes the need to distinguish between honest mistakes and deliberate misrepresentations. I wrote: “Thoughtful people understand that all of us make mistakes, confuse facts, and are, with distressing frequency, dead wrong. The best way to correct these mistakes is honest communication unhindered by name calling or other forms of humiliation that create barriers to understanding.” I have spent a good share of my working life trying to do my bit to make local governments work better. Even the very best people and places need to keep improving in order to stay ahead of the many forces (natural and man-made) that work to tear us down. We can’t do better if we are not willing to honestly discuss our differences of opinion and find ways to constructively resolve them.

All of this may be my long-winded way of saying that I appreciate responses to things I write that might strike a bad chord or otherwise provoke an unpleasant response. Having made the decision to express my thoughts in writing every week, I have to accept that people will sometimes find fault with what I’ve written either because of my mistakes or by virtue of a different point of view. Please feel free to let me know if that happens. I can’t guarantee that I will always agree or change my opinion. I can guarantee that I will respectfully consider whatever I’m told.

Being Considerate

I don’t know where or when the notion of political correctness entered the national dialogue, but I think it’s time we discard the term and return to the simpler concept of being considerate. Most of us were raised to be considerate people who do not go out of our way to offend others. My parents believed consideration for others was a part of basic good manners, and they communicated that belief to me in countless subtle and not so subtle ways throughout the years I was under their care.

Basic consideration for the feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and practices of others requires no apology or even any particular skill. Considerate people recognize that peacefully coexisting on an increasingly crowded planet means we probably shouldn’t blurt out whatever we might be feeling or thinking at any given moment. There is nothing dishonest about exercising a little discretion at moments when we may feel aggrieved or provoked. Consideration does demand some minimal self-control and patience–virtues that, in my opinion, have become undervalued in recent times.

While these arguments may have general applicability in the wider world, my purpose in writing about them here relates to their importance in the work place. I don’t know about anyone else, but I do not go home at night and tell my wife that I think she’s done something stupid, regardless of whether I might have an issue with anything she’s said or done. Similarly, I have enough respect for the people I work with every day to avoid comments that might offend them. Being considerate has nothing to do with being politically correct and everything to do with the basic need to maintain positive relationships with those we interact with every day. Expressing disagreement or dissatisfaction can be done with enough consideration to get the message across, while still being very clear about our own thoughts and feelings. Being considerate allows us to communicate without humiliating, provoking, or otherwise engendering feelings that undermine the purpose of whatever it is we’re saying.

Consideration extends to both sides of a conversation. There is no reason for anyone to look for reasons to be offended. Considerate listeners don’t interrupt or interpret every remark as an excuse to be incensed. Thoughtful people understand that all of us make mistakes, confuse facts, and are, with distressing frequency, dead wrong. The best way to correct these mistakes is honest communication unhindered by name calling or other forms of humiliation that create barriers to understanding.

As I approach retirement and too often confront reminders of age-related diminished capacity (i.e., recent attempt to climb a steep section of the Great Wall of China), I fear that perhaps my notions of good manners are simply another example of falling out of step with the times. I hope others will, however, humor me in my decline by treating others with the respect and consideration I believe we all deserve.