Some self-reflection to start the week.
During my Chronicle years, I’d have the occasional phone conversation with someone who doubted the sincerity of my professional ethics.
“I don’t trust reporters,” I’ve heard more than once.
My reply was always the same:
“I don’t trust reporters either.”
I followed it with this:
“Go down to the Courthouse and ask 10 people who know me if I’m trustworthy. Toss out the best — ‘Mike is a Pulitzer winner!’ — and the worst — ‘I wouldn’t let that guy write my gerbil’s obituary’ — and whatever those eight people say is fine with me. If they tell you not to trust me, my problem is with me and those eight people, not with you.”
I’ve never had that come back to bite me.
I took a phone call Thursday from a long-time friend. We’re not close but it’s someone I’ve known for many years. He is a leader in this community, a successful businessman who gives tirelessly of his efforts and finances to help the less fortunate.
He’s also connected politically but more so in the background. I’ve written about him, oh, maybe a dozen times over the years. Sometimes favorably, sometimes not.
He was a big supporter of the Just Wright Citrus concept from the start and was one of those who encouraged me to keep my voice active in the community. He doesn’t agree with everything I write and I don’t think we’re on the same political wavelength but that’s never stopped his support.
The friend calls occasionally with a news tip, but I don’t normally hear from him. So I wasn’t sure what to expect when I saw his call coming Thursday afternoon.
We exchanged a few pleasantries. Then he got to the point of his call. Noting, correctly, that he isn’t one to complain about the blogs even when he thinks I’m off the edge.
But now I’ve gone too far.
Referring to last Wednesday's blog, where I suggested the county install a temporary traffic signal at C.R. 491 and Horace Allen Street, my friend point blank said:
“That’s the worst thing you’ve ever written.”
I sat quietly for 15 minutes while he explained. It wasn’t so much my absurd reasoning that the county should waste thousands of dollars on traffic signal poles that they’d have to move when the road is widened, it was my entire attitude.
A demanding attitude. An insulting one. Totally without fact or understanding.
And then he said something that really cut to the bone, so deep I have a difficult time even now coming to grips with it.
“You are a leader in this community,” he said, “whether you want to acknowledge that or not.”
He wasn’t saying that to puff me up. In fact, just the opposite. It was one of those “get it in gear with the rest of us” kind of directives.
As he talked it dawned on me how disconnected I’ve been from the community these past five weeks. Preparing for a big open house, followed immediately by unplanned moving from my home of 18 years, followed immediately after that by surgery and two weeks of annoying recovery.
I missed so much during that time. The Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon and the BAM BBQ. I didn’t make it to a single Inverness Cootertober event that occurred just a 10-minute walk from my new home. The Friday morning leadership prayer breakfast, Friday night’s Boots & Bling for United Way — missed ‘em both.
And, worst of all, having to watch the County Commission meeting on my laptop at home.
These aren’t simply social occasions. They are my connections to the Citrus County world. When I’m not interacting with these folks, I’m — dare I say it — no more aware than your standard Soundoff caller. I’ve turned into a griper. A know-nothing, know-it-all.
Worse, I think there’s nothing wrong with that. Because my ego takes pride in being the common man, I think it’s OK to throw out flippant remarks about politicians or circumstances under the guise that I’m only starting conversations. In reality, I’m being lazy.
Just Wright Citrus does play a leadership role around here and I’m the one driving the bus. Our goal is to encourage leaders, not drag them down. Yes, shine lights where needed, but always with a broader purpose in mind.
Some recent blogs, including the one my friend mentioned as the worst he’s ever seen from me, did not reach that standard. I promise to crank it up. My sitting at home days have ended.
I’m appreciative of my friend’s call and I told him so. I forget sometimes that I’m on a mission that goes well beyond me. I’m grateful for reminders.
Have a beautiful Monday, Citrus County.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.