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Open Letter An Open Letter to School Board Trustee Michael Tsai: There are ways...

An Open Letter to School Board Trustee Michael Tsai: There are ways you can turn this around

Dear Trustee Tsai—

No harm will come to you in these paragraphs. 

This is not cancel culture in progress. We do not cancel here in Milpitas. In Milpitas, we accept and grow. But then again, we all have to be willing to grow together…

Mr. Tsai: You find yourself immensely embattled. At Tuesday’s Milpitas Unified School District (MUSD) board meeting, you were administered the terms of your recent censure. You were called out for lateness, for not showing up to meetings, for making unfounded accusations, and for publicly attacking your colleagues Kelly Yip-Chuan and Hon Lien on social media. You were likewise stripped of your board assignments until this coming December, while the principal of Cal Hills and a teacher from Zanker Elementary said you’ve had zero involvement with their schools and have made zero contact with them despite being their board representative.

Indeed, you feel that everyone is against you. It would be difficult to disavail you of this perception. To be sure, although MUSD Board President Chris Norwood tries to meet you halfway at times, to witness you in the midst of public meetings is to see a man deprived (and depriving himself) of any alignment to or agreement with his colleagues. It’s all contentiousness and gridlocked debate. It eats up time and drains the public’s dime. It is a spectacle with the rare attribute of having become immensely boring.

Trustee Tsai: Your battles have even encroached upon my own household. You once sought to discredit my wife Rhoda, the founder of this newspaper, when she provided marketing services to the Milpitas Unified School District a couple years ago, something which she is not only legally entitled to do, but which is also consistent with how many newspapers generate revenue in the 21st century. (Added disclosure: Rhoda’s name was mentioned at this past Tuesday’s meeting, when one public commenter sought to highlight a pattern in which you attack women.)

Michael: It doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, I see 3 ways out for you. But they’re not separate ways; they ideally would all be embraced at once. These measures would not only soothe your sorrows, they would turn your career in politics around:

  1. Listen to your colleagues.

Do so regularly, with effort and intention. Seek to perceive and absorb their strengths and wisdom. And compliment them in your interactions—with regularity, from this point onward. I am not asking you to lie. I’m not asking you to sell your soul. I am simply suggesting a form of social commerce that will allow for a greater degree of peace in your interactions. ‘Til now, I have seen virtually none. There has, I regret to say, only been war.

2. Try not to be a mismatcher.

In our species, there are matchers and mismatchers. A matcher, when she hears someone comment that the weather is nice, tends to say, “Yes, it certainly is.” A mismatcher instead says, “Really? I’m freezing.” This isn’t psychological; it’s neurological; it is in the hardwiring of our brains. The problem with mismatchers is, they’re hard to trust. Get mismatched once, fine. Twice—OK. But once a mismatcher sits there disagreeing with every little thing you say, the legitimacy of that person’s position goes out the window. 

Now Michael, you’re a mismatcher. Since you are one, you’ll likely say that I’m wrong. Maybe I am! I’m a matcher; I’m open! Either way, I’d like you to prove me wrong. Show Milpitas you can navigate a conversation in a tranquil state of total agreeability. Again: don’t lie. But then again, do note that chronic mismatching is itself an obstruction of truth. For if only you are right, then everyone else has to constantly be wrong. And everyone in the world knows that no one can constantly be right. So cut yourself some slack and validate some other people’s points here and there. It’ll allow them—and us—the comfort of trusting Trustee Tsai’s overall judgment.

3. Put your position in context.

Mike, your battles are of a scale beyond your battlefield. You are a school board trustee in Milpitas, California. You’re not Napoleon at the Battle of La Rothière. Now, I too can get a bit grandiose. Anyone who reads my articles can see that. But the two of us have to ground ourselves, Michael. You’re here to try and help the city’s children, two of whom I happen to have fathered. We need you to approach the objective as though it’s a source of humility and growth—growth for you and the ones you serve. Right now, you seem to be approaching it as though you’re in a black and white German spy movie and all the floor tiles are bugged. I assure you, nobody is out to get you.

But you’re giving a lot of people a lot of reasons to be upset with you.

The good news is (and here’s one of those compliments I was recommending), I don’t think anybody who’s listened to you speak would doubt your basic intelligence. Your intellect is abundantly apparent in both your speech and your writing. 

It’s your social intelligence, I think, where your current opportunities for growth lie. In fact, it’s your demonstrable level of social intelligence that will mark the difference between your current term being the end of your political career…or it being the beginning.

Truly, it is up to you.

I wish you all the best for growth, peace, health, and happiness, as you navigate your way through the current storm.

 

—Eric

 

Eric Shapiro
Eric Shapiro is an acclaimed, award-winning writer-filmmaker and has served as a ghostwriter, speechwriter, or script doctor for over 3,000 clients. His first novel is a dark political thriller called "Red Dennis" (2020). His first nonfiction book is a guide for helping writers be more productive called "Ass Plus Seat" (2020). He co-hosts the "House of Mystery Radio Show" on NBC News Radio. Eric's books can be purchased here.

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