We get all sorts of calls at our office ~ constituents want new laws, want to get rid of current laws, want help with potholes, with noisy neighbors, with pollution, with crime, with parking tickets, with parks, and everything in between. Often, we help by simply listening ~ sometimes we can't offer tangible assistance, for example, to a tenant in federal housing, where we don't have jurisdiction. It's frustrating for them, and for us.
But we can lend an ear, a shoulder to cry on, or serve as a sounding board. Often, not always, but often enough, the caller gives a sigh of relief, and says, "I know you can't really do anything about [X], but thank you for listening."
Never, ever, underestimate the value of the words, "Thank you for listening."
Today a caller said to me, "Yes, I want to know how my Councilmember wants me to vote on Proposition [XX]." I explained to her that we can't really tell her HOW to vote, but I can answer all of her questions and give her all the information she feels she needs in order to make an informed decision. She patiently listened to all of the information, the Pros and Cons, the relevant issues the City Council has addressed in previous votes, etc. Then she said, "I thought Nancy was one of the most Progressive members of the Council...." I said, "Oh ~ probably THE most progressive."
"So why are you being so wishy washy in telling me how to vote for this?"
We both laughed ~ and she let me be diplomatic by repeating that I can't tell her HOW to vote.....but I urged her to LISTEN TO ME, as we discussed the particular proposition. ~ :)
Then she asked me about another ballot measure. She had her voter information pamphlet with her but she said there was no information about State Proposition [XX]. I asked her if she had access to the Internet, or had a computer at home.
She said no.
I asked her if she could come by City Hall, and I could print up the material for her.
She said she was house-bound.
I asked her if she would like me to mail her the material to her home address.
But she wanted to VOTE NOW ~ not to wait for the mailman.
So, I asked her which ballot measures she was still unsure of, and I told her I would read the information to her from SmartVoter.org. She really wanted to make informed decisions about everything from the State Props. to the East Bay Municipal Utility District races(!). I adored this woman! I thanked her repeatedly for wanting to make informed votes, and she thanked me for reading everything to her. I clicked through the various explanations of the Propositions, the Pros and Cons, I read lists of supporters and opponents to her, and I clicked on to other web sites when she asked me what other groups, such as the League of Women Voters, said about certain issues.
We discussed the Presidential race and whether she should vote for Obama, to contribute to "a huge mandate," or go ahead and voter for the Green Party, "since we have a little wiggle room and just to make a statement about those policies." We talked about the Pros and Cons of each type of vote, and I told her I would leave that one entirely up to her.
After about 20-30 minutes, I had to go ~ but we were finished with her ballot and she was ready to mail it in.
"I feel very validated in my vote," she told me.
I feel very validated in Myself, I thought ~ wishing I could tell her.
She thanked me, I thanked her, we laughed, she promised to call again if she had any other questions.
Often, even always, we need that other person as much as they need us ~ if only to say, thank you for listening.