As credit union executives prepare to come to Washington next month to lobby Congress, here's a gentle reminder: Mind your manners.
The recent rampage in Tucson has generated a great deal of media discussion about the impact of the nation's increasingly heated political rhetoric.
To be sure, the suspect appears to be mentally deranged and not to have been motivated by politics. However, that doesn't mean that the country might not benefit from reducing the harshness of some of the political debate.
The words that President John F. Kennedy uttered in his inaugural address 50 years ago this month ring true today: "So let us begin anew-remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof."
Kennedy never advocated that people should minimize their political differences or shy away from honest debate.
At times, confrontational language can be effective when you have an enemy, rather than an adversary.
President Ronald Reagan's 1983 description of the Soviet Union as an "evil empire" was controversial in some circles. However, he was, after all, referring to a country that had the capability of launching a nuclear attack against the United States.
At last check, neither Congress nor the NCUA possesses such ability.
It's not surprising that many people in the credit union industry are on edge these days.
The severe recession has placed unprecedented pressures on credit unions. Many credit union leaders are stressed beyond belief and are forced to choose among a series of unpalatable options for improving their institution's bottom line.
As if those burdens aren't enough, it seems that every time you read Credit Union Times there is an article about the NCUA or some other government entity approving, or at least considering, some rule change that will add to your institution's regulatory burden.
Reagan famously said that the most dreaded nine words in the English language are: "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help."
These pressures can lead to rhetorical excess.
In a comment letter to the NCUA on its latest proposed corporate credit union rule, Olympia, Wash.-based consultant Marvin Umholtz had this description about a provision to encourage corporate credit unions to expel members that don't pay money into the Temporary Corporate Credit Union Stabilization Fund. He wrote that it "borders on a public pillorying characteristic of puritanical colonial times-more suitable for drunkards and witches than for responsibly governed financial institutions."
That kind of language is enough to make one bewitched, bothered and bewildered.
NCUA board member Gigi Hyland saw this kind of overreaction when discussing the same proposed corporate credit union rule that Umholtz was writing about.
During a Jan. 10 speech at the Metropolitan Area Credit Union Management Association, she encouraged attendees to write comment letters informing agency officials about what they like and don't like in the proposed rule. She quipped that "I read every single stinking comment letter."
Hyland has expressed that sentiment, if not in those exact words, on numerous occasions. Her willingness to read comment letters-and encourage people to send more of them-makes her either a dutiful regulator or a glutton for punishment or both. With two weeks remaining in the comment period, the NCUA had already received 96 comment letters.
Usually her requests don't elicit much response from the audience.
However, given some of the comments to Credit Union Times following her MACUMA speech, you might have thought she had said of agency critics, "Off with their heads."
A man who signed his name "John Doe" asked, "Are our comment letters that bad?"
A man named "Tony" wrote that "it said more than any comment letter would knowing that NCUA board member Gigi Hyland regards those comments from natural person credit unions as 'stinking.'"
Here's a secret about the workings of government. Comment letters are more than occasionally dry. That's because they often deal with arcane, though important, aspects of statutes and regulations.
While the writers of these letters may not give Hemingway and Faulkner a run for their money, their sentiments are heartfelt, and they provide real world feedback about the impact of government policies.
When writing letters or lobbying decision makers in person, credit union executives needn't be reluctant to give their opinions about the matter at hand.
However, being respectful and trying to understand where that regulator or lawmaker is coming from will go a long way.