Blogs should come with a warning: If you ask a blogger questions that require some talking about themselves, expect a verbose answer.
Especially if the challenge is to explain my contributions to Salem from a couple of people who appear to doubt that I've done anything useful in my entire life.
Today they left rather similar comments on my post, "T.J. Sullivan is the Chamber's President-Elect. He's gotten well-deserved snark from me."
Concerned Citizen left the first comment.
Hi Brian. Honest questions: What concrete things have you done to make Salem better? How many people do you currently employ and how many have you employed over the past ten years? How much cumulative tax have you paid over the past ten years? Have you built anything?
I think it's great that people speak out on a blog and try to add value. However, if that is all that you do, you are just typing. You have no real world experience creating or building. If a small community in the middle of nowhere was just made of 50 people like you, it would whither and die in less than a generation.
Ben left the second comment.
I’d love to see Brian put up his list of volunteer contributions towards making Salem a better place, so that could be compared with TJ Sullivan’s. But of course, that won’t happen, because sitting in your underwear behind a computer screen and blogging about your urinary tract problems and geriatric skateboarding while generally complaining about those you disagree with really pales in comparison to the countless hours TJ Sullivan has given to this community.
Ooh! Fighting words. Let's get it on.
To begin with, Concerned Citizen is way off base with the assumption that only people with employees are doing "concrete things to make Salem better" and have "real world experience creating or building."
I come from a family of highly successful businesspeople. I'm not stating this because it makes me look better. I'm stating it because it is a fact that informs my current worldview.
My great-uncle and godfather was Conrad Hilton, the hotel person. I spent quite a bit of time with him as a youth, since my (divorced) mother lived in central California and he lived in the Beverly Hills area. My maternal grandfather started a materials handling company. My father was a co-founder of a high-tech company in the 1980s.
Being the oldest male child on my mother's side (I never met my father until I was in my 30s, and then only for an hour), it was assumed that I'd go to Dartmouth, get an MBA from the Tuck Business School, and eventually run the family materials handling/electric lift truck business.
But I shockingly decided to go to San Jose State College, where I majored in Psychology, then got a Masters in Social Work from Portland State University (where I also became a Ph.D. dropout in Systems Science). My mother, an intellectual, loved that at San Jose State I was admitted to an honor's program featuring tutorials with a small number of students and professors.
So screw the idea that the only good life is one devoted to running a business. This denigrates most of the United States population.
Further, I never heard any of my family members talk as if being a businessperson was more important than any other calling. I can't remember any of them putting other people down because they weren't running a business. So this is a new thing for me, the idea that someone's life is worthless if they don't have employees.
As you'll read below, I've done a lot of creating and building. It just hasn't been structures, or a company.
Regarding Ben's comment about me blogging in my underwear, this has never happened. (But for the right amount of money, I'm ready to both do it and publish photos of me in the act.)
What has occurred is a tremendous amount of volunteer time I've given to my blogs since 2003. Hey, Ben and Concerned Citizen, since you admire a business mentality so much, here's some hard data about my blogging for you to chew over.
Total pageviews: 7,843,580
Total posts: 5,383
Total comments: 44,662
The market, as the saying goes, has spoken.
Not one of the almost 8 million pageviews was coerced. Not one of the almost 45,000 comments was forced upon the commenter. Lots of people have been reading the blogs that I created and built because they find value in what I write about, even if they don't agree with what I have to say.
Now I'll turn to what I've contributed to Salem.
I moved here in 1977. At first I worked for the State Health Planning and Development Agency as an executive service manager. Then I became the publicist, and after that, executive director, of Oregon Health Decisions, a pioneering nonprofit bioethics organization.
I'm proud of what was created and built during that part of my life.
The work we did in conjunction with then Senate president John Kitzhaber laid the conceptual framework for the Oregon Health Plan/Medicaid expansion. We engaged the public in discussions about death with dignity and living wills.
Turning to my neighborhood, I moved out of the Salem city limits to rural south Salem in 1990. Almost immediately I began serving on what amounts to our "neighborhood association" in our planned community, Spring Lake Estates. For about 24 years I was the secretary for our neighborhood group and put in countless volunteer hours in this position.
My wife and I led our neighborhood's fight against a subdivision that threatened our water supplies. For about five years I tirelessly worked on this battle. We eventually succeeded, showing that when a community sticks together, it can overcome great odds.
What about Salem proper? Well, here's a list of things that I feel good about accomplishing after I became an ardent Salem citizen activist about four years ago.
-- I wrote a tell-all report about the shameful destruction of the U.S. Bank trees on downtown's State Street. This, I believe, gave impetus to revisions that were made to Salem's tree ordinance so more large, beautiful, healthy trees wouldn't be needlessly cut down.
-- When the parking lot at Riverfront Park next to the Carousel was threatened by a planned road for apartments on the west side of the railroad tracks, I and others worked hard to prevent this from happening. I discovered that it would take years to get federal approval to allow the changes to Riverfront Park, which helped kill this bad idea. The apartments ended up being built along Commercial Street, a marked improvement.
-- I led the fight agains the poorly thought-out $82 million police facility bond measure that was defeated by Salem voters in 2016. The price tag was reduced to $61 million in a second-try 2017 bond measure, saving Salem's citizens about $21 million.
-- For several years I, along with others, harped on the need to seismically retrofit the Library and City Hall along with building an earthquake-safe police facility. I'm convinced that if we hadn't worked so hard to bring this to the attention of the City Council, and the citizenry in general, there wouldn't be a bond measure on the November 2017 ballot to make seismic upgrades to the Library, along with other renovations.
-- I wrote a Strange Up Salem column for Salem Weekly at no charge or about two years. This undoubtedly brought joy, delight, and inspiration to countless Salemians. (Well, it did for me, at least.)
-- I've been a member of the Salem Community Vision steering committee since this group was founded. We've done a lot of good things, and will continue to do more.
Lastly -- the reader can only hope -- I was an active member of an India-based spiritual/meditation organization for about 35 years. I volunteered to write three books for the organization, which took an immense amount of time and energy.
For many years, too many to remember, I was the secretary for the local spiritual group in Salem, which held weekly meetings that I had to arrange, set up the chairs for, and often give the talk ("satsang") at. Yeah, I know, to some people this doesn't count as volunteering because I'm not a Christian. In fact, I'm now an atheist. But this volunteer work was a labor of love of mine for a long time.
(If you aren't totally bored with this rendition of my life, there's more on my web page that's devoted to me.)
Anyway, I've responded at length to Concerned Citizen and Ben because (1) it bugs me when someone asserts that I haven't created or built anything because I'm not a businessperson, and (2) it bugs me even more that this assertion oozes over into denigrating the contributions of everybody in Salem who has taken a non-business path in life.
Concerned Citizen said that if everybody was like me, a community would wither and die. Well, the same is true if everybody was like anybody.
Salem would die if there were only businesspeople in it. And not just figuratively, literally, since there would be no doctors and no nurses. And if there weren't teachers, librarians, artists, musicians, philosophers, writers, and so on, Salem wouldn't be a town worth living in.
So let's bury the Chamber of Commerce notion that Business Rules way more than ten feet under. How about ten miles under. I and countless others are valuable members of the Salem community not in spite of us not being in business, but because we're not.