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Live and Learn

Sometimes plain English isn’t all that plain. Take for example the term “friendly amendment.” During the sixteen years I’ve been in public office in Tuolumne County, I have only heard it used once, and that was just the other day.

At a regional committee meeting on the subject of child support collections, a voting member of the group made a motion on an agendized item, and another voting member seconded it. I expected there would be some further discussion on the motion and then it would move forward for a “yea” or “nay” vote.

I was wrong.

Someone at the table offered a “friendly amendment” to the motion. I thought the person was kidding. I also wondered if he made the expression up.

“What’s a friendly amendment?” I asked.

The voting member explained that he didn’t like the motion on the floor well enough to vote for it, but didn’t want to vote against it either because there was some good in it. He didn’t want to offer a substitute motion out of respect for the maker of the motion. A “friendly amendment” was his compromise.

Oh, and yes: It turns out that you have to ask permission of the maker of the original motion to offer a friendly amendment to it.

Do you see the picture that emerges? It looks a lot like civility in the public arena. It gives people room to both make their points and then back off gracefully. A “friendly amendment” is the proverbial half a loaf. The other half, in this case, is respect for each other’s point of view, flavored by the need to move on.

I can see many applications of the “friendly amendment” idea in politics and everyday life. I bet you can too.