Crime on the rails

A couple years ago, one of the professional goals in my annual review was to read a book about leadership. It may surprise you that members of the Fire/Rescue world have annual goals, other than "save more people," but we take our leadership very seriously. 

I read a book called The No Asshole Rule because I liked its title and came to appreciate its perspective.  One of the most challenging tasks for a manager is not inspiring staff, but keeping their inspiration from being sapped by a small number of rotten employees who make everything unpleasant and difficult. Like you, like everyone, I've worked with them. Their crappy attitude and toxic interpersonal skills can derail the efforts of ten devoted, energized people, as if sucking down positivity is their superpower. 

My takeaway impression that the The No Asshole Rule could have been a pamphlet. Its dominant message is that if you can't immediately mitigate the effects of these ghouls, you have to cut them loose. They will poison everything, and no matter how elaborate the facade they've constructed to justify their presence in your workplace, they're always going to be a liability. 

I've been reminded of this while reading several local community forums, in which a dedicated group of anonymized trolls frequently converts reasonable discussions into racist cesspits. When a new train line opened near my house, the boards lit up with claims that the metro would bring crime to our community. As anyone who has spent time in the echo chamber of an unmoderated forum could guess, efforts to diffuse these claims with facts were easily drowned in the weight of keyboard-mashing missives and self-justified vitriol.

I repeatedly see "crime" employed cynically as a euphemism for African Americans and immigrants. This argument has been deployed to scare people away from implementing mass transit in the past, but research repeatedly has confirmed it's untrue - mass transit may even reduce crime levels through multiple mechanisms.

The underlying question for me, when I see these arguments, is what unseen interests motivate people to trot out the same specious arguments over and over. On the surface, there would appear to be no connection between racism and effective transit planning. And yet, they're linked, in debate after debate. You'd think the argument would be used against the construction of new roads - since roads make far more effective getaway routes than suburban trains - but it's not. I have to wonder why a contingent of assholes wants to link race-based fears to this particular piece of the urban planning puzzle. 

In the real world - in a viable democracy - you don't have the luxury of having a moderator delete offensive comments or cut off pointless derails. You can't fire people from public debate. We're all working together on self-governance, but some of the employees don't like the others very much. What's a leader to do?