Ever read one of those crazy stories about a court case or a governmental decision that goes something like this: “This decision overturned a previous decision to rescind a law that overturned a ban on the elimination of a restriction on line 7 of paragraph 6 of regulation 9.9 of the city code….” You can read those things 50 times trying to establish a positive orientation starting point, then flipping the idea when there’s a negative and going back and forth to try to figure out what it actually means. It could say: “The decision means you can’t tie your clothesline to your neighbor’s tree.” But it doesn’t; it confuses, convolutes, and obfuscates.
One time I attended a township meeting where there was a controversy on the agenda. The room was overflowing with people on the “NO WAY!” side of the issue. People on both sides had their say and it appeared to me that the “NO” side had the better argument. Then the chairman asked the secretary to read the motion, which was stated in the positive, as was proper. It went something like this: “Section 9 of the township code is to be amended to allow free range cattle.” (I made that issue up, but that was the flavor of it.) At that point there were shouts and boos from the audience and all kinds of nasty remarks about the supervisors. This went on for a couple minutes and by the time the chairman was done banging his gavel in an attempt to restore order, the people against the measure stormed out of the building. Then the vote was taken and all the supervisors voted against it, so it didn’t pass. All the people against the measure never saw that the supervisors were on their side. They thought that because the motion was made in the positive that it was automatically supported.
Motions should always be in the positive to make the meaning clear. In the situation described above, what the people wanted to hear was more like: “The township code will not be amended to allow free range cattle.” But then, when the vote was taken, the folks would have to vote “yes” to not allow the change. See how the positive/negative flip starts? In the meeting scenario above, if people heard “yes,” they would have thought the folks were voting in favor of something when they, in fact, were voting against the idea.
Example number three of this negative/positive craziness is on signs you see every day, No Parking signs. You know the ones: “No Parking 8:00 a.m. even days to 8 a.m. odd days.” You have to switch sides to accommodate snow plowing. But I never know whether it’s an even day or an odd day, so I never know where to park. Of course, if all there are bunch of cars parked on one side, it’s a pretty good bet that’s the side to park on… unless people on that block work second shift and haven’t gotten around to moving their cars. If there’s one car on the block or a car with a ticket, I’m really confused. Did he get it yesterday or this morning? You could be there at the right time on the right day with cars on both sides of the street sporting tickets, then what?
So, here’s an idea and a challenge to city council. How ’bout if our little city, Warren, PA, was the home of a brand new idea: “Positive Parking”! Instead of putting the rule in the negative: “No Parking…” , we change our signs to the straight-forward, positive, welcoming: “Park here…” with the appropriate details! Of course, I’d still have to figure out whether it’s an even day or an odd day, but with all that positive energy up and down the street, I’ll bet it would be so much easier for me.
Imagine, little ol’ Warren, PA, the home of “Positive Parking.” We’ll be famous! People will come from miles around to experience “positive parking” in its birthplace. Will I see that idea on any agenda soon?
Of course, if it was up to me, we’d just park down the middle of the street every day and the plows could work on whichever side of the street they wanted to.