The question caught me off guard.
I had just finished giving a presentation to a group on my 50-plus years in newspaper journalism, and it was time for questions from the audience.
I anticipated what some of the questions might cover — the future of newspapers, the most interesting stories and personalities, and, most recently, fake news.
But the one I didn't see coming came from a man in the audience who had no axes to grind. He was polite and curious.
"What do you think about the future of Mason City?" he asked.
Wow. My mind was spinning to come up with a definitive answer on pretty short notice.
"One thing I know for sure," I told the man, "is that we have to quit demonizing people who have opposing views than ours."
The "I'm right and everyone else is wrong" mentality is a plague on progress and social media is venue in which it can explode, I told him.
The next day, another example occurred, this one in the the continuing saga of the River City Renaissance project. Philip Chodur, the hotel developer who has never developed a hotel, shot off an email in which he criticized the city and state officials for dragging their feet, then blasted Chamber Director Robin Anderson, Mason City Foundation member Dalena Barz and Elizabeth Allison, executive director of The Music Man Square.
They were all supporters of the Gatehouse Mason City LLC hotel proposal, instead of Chodur's G8 proposal chosen by the City Council. But all have said they support the project and are ready to move on.
Chodur wrote that he found it incomprehensible that these three women still had their jobs. That's demonizing, not unifying.
The most memorable recent example of demonizing was the debate almost two years ago on the proposed Prestage hog processing plant in which the community was divided.
The animosity that developed was unfortunate and lingering. The proposal lost on a 3-3 vote of the City Council, and many people on both sides of the issue had harsh words for those who disagreed with them.
I have often said that though the vote was 3-3, all six members of the council voted in what they thought was in the best interests of the community. In other words, no need to demonize any of them — and yet some of them are still identified today by how they voted on that one issue.
The challenge for Mayor Bill Schickel and the City Council is to create an atmosphere in which the public realizes that government is not an us-versus-them proposition.
I have mentioned before in this space that the late Roger Broers, a Cerro Gordo County supervisor years ago, said, "Our challenge is to make people realize government exists to do things for the people — and not to them."
The challenge remains.
When I mentioned to a friend my thoughts on how we demonize one another, he said, "Well unfortunately, it's not just in Mason City. It's all over the country now, starting from the top. But I have to say it's one area in which Mason City has been way ahead of its time."