Friday, November 09, 2012

State of our nation: You're okay, but look at these idiots

The latest This American Life episode (which I didn't listen to until yesterday) talked about the "Red State/Blue State" divide. It featured a story about friendships that ended due to political differences, and focused at the end on two sisters who barely had a relationship because one was a Democrat and the other a Republican. The correspondent found two friends—one liberal and the other conservative—who wrote a book together about not so much bridging that gap but coming to grips with it. The method was to sit down and try to understand the other person's point of view and not seek to persuade that other person to yours.

The sisters had initially agreed to participate in a conference call with the authors but then the conservative sister backed out. In a separate call with the authors she admitted she didn't have the goal of understanding but of changing her sister. She struggled with reconciling her opinion of liberals—that they are all selfish—with her sister, whom she knew to be not selfish. The liberal author noted he thought most people were unselfish, on both ends of the political spectrum, and that there simply were people who believed the wrong things, and that they disagree, but thinking the other side is selfish separate. In the end the sister was determined to reconnect with her sister and knew she had to accept she couldn't change her sister, bearing in mind that the relationship was more important than politics.

It was a little disheartening to hear the woman speak in these generalities, about how she believed "liberals" were a particular way despite the specific evidence right in front of her—her sister—refuted that. Rather than widening her belief to include the possibility that at least some liberals aren't that way she chose to view her sister as essentially having fallen in with the wrong crowd.

But in the story the correspondent noted that was how it was on both sides in all of these cases; each person had a strict view of what a "right-thinking" person would believe and that was as far as they could go. There was adherence to dogma but not actual open-mindedness. People had not been required to reconcile the seemingly disparate and potentially contradictory aspects of those they knew.

Perhaps that really is human nature, and the current climate is merely from the social niceties having worn away. I don't like that thought, and I see plenty of evidence amongst those I know—which includes folks of different political stripes—that civil disagreement is possible, but what we see in the media (as a gauge of the rest of the country) runs counter to that.

It becomes increasingly difficult not to have this conclusion, on which perhaps we all can agree: People suck, but the individuals I know are okay (at least most of the time).

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