MINOT, N.D. — Do you ever wonder, when you see people complaining about a business online, if that person even attempted to talk about the problem with the business before complaining about it online?
Many people seem more interested in online griping than working with someone out in the real world to actually solve the problem.
I've been thinking about that as I've followed an emerging food fight between a Fargo-area Democrat and a business in central North Dakota.
If you've driven through Carrington, you've seen the centerpiece of this folderol.
It's a massive statue of a Native American outside the Chieftain, a combination restaurant, hotel and events center. You can't miss it.
State Rep. Ruth Buffalo, a first-term Democrat from Fargo, certainly didn't miss it. During a recent road trip she took a photo of the statue and posted it on Facebook, calling for it to come down.
"Here’s another statue that needs to be replaced. We are no longer in an era to tolerate, uphold or accept racist imagery and statues that perpetuate harmful treatment, harmful practices and harmful behavior towards Native Americans," she wrote in the post.
Right after calling the statue racist, Buffalo then claimed she wants to learn more about it. "I am interested in learning more about this statue and how it not only honors Native Americans but contributes towards a more welcoming atmosphere for our children," she wrote.
If Buffalo tried to start a conversation with the owner of the statute, it's not apparent from a Facebook post the Chieftain Conference Center put up in response to the claim that their facility is racist.
"[Y]ou could have called or stopped in any time," the open letter addressed to Buffalo states. "You chose instead to stir up on social media in order to gain approval from your followers."
I'm very familiar with the Chieftain. I've been stopping there for years (their French Dip and fries is a favorite of mine).
I'm agnostic about the statue. I think it's understandable that some might see it, at the very least, as a deeply outdated representation of Native Americans.
I'll leave the debate about the appropriateness of the display to others.
What interests me more is how we go about having those debates.
Ruth Buffalo is someone who is offended by the statue. She's also an elected official and a leader in North Dakota's Native American community. She could have called the folks at the Chieftain and started a dialogue, and perhaps found some common ground on the statue that both she and the Chieftain's owners could live with.
Instead, Buffalo chose to attack the Chieftain on social media, leveling an accusation with racism that overshadows an apparently not-at-all sincere statement about seeking a conversation. Buffalo's post, widely shared on social media, has apparently resulted in no small amount of harassment for the folks at the Chieftain.
Is that how we bridge the divides in our society? Or is that how we garner more cultural trench warfare?
If the local coffee shop screws up your order, talking to them about it might fix the problem. Complaining about it on Facebook, while perhaps gratifying in a very shallow and selfish way, will not.
The same applies here. Buffalo could have been a leader. She could have started a conversation from which something positive could have emerged.
Instead, Buffalo chose to attack, which makes compromise harder.
That's not leadership.
Our society needs more leaders who are inclined to talk and compromise, and fewer bomb-throwing ideologues like Buffalo.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.