We have to reinvigorate this space. By "we" I mean "I." It's my turn and I am rising to the occasion. Soon...stay tuned...
I made it a point to write a response this week so we can continue the chain of thought and in keeping with the purpose of this project. I wrote the first essay as a response to an election result that surprised me. In keeping the writing short and to the point I didn’t expound at any length on any of the points. That would certainly mean too much homework as you correctly noted.
I have been in many situations where my views were in the minority and these views were opposed and dismissed, ridiculed and mocked. Too many times my response to this was anger and I could not verbally make my point especially when I was interrupted. This made me lose clarity in getting to the crux of the matter. That is why I found it was less painful to be quiet. Ergo the silence.
As to the matter of gay rights I believe that people are entitled to make a life commitment to whomever they want. I also believe they should get the same legal and social benefits as anyone else. I differ as to definitions. I believe the term marriage should be used to denote a union of a man and a woman, same sex couples a civil union. This might be minor I know, but that is my opinion. Does this mean I am discriminating against same sex unions? No. Just terminology.Isn’t any choice made by noting differences discrimination? We make those choices on a daily basis.
The outrage you sense is not from my opposition of these unions, but the constant forced feeding of the issue. I do not care what goes on behind closed doors; it is none of my business. If I am introduced to someone I do not think their sexual preference should be the main point of that introduction.
You might be right that we are in a deadlock and we are making appeals based on deeply held senses of ethical and moral beliefs. The gap between us is not a chasm though, as the word deadlock might convey. We have differing views but I expect that, just as many of my views were different from those of my father. We are a product of a changing world as we move through our lives. We are thirty years apart though, and some diverse opinions should be the norm. I think you would agree with that.
We are at a point where we are comfortable with each other and I have an enormous amount of respect for you. You have always made me proud of you and you continue to do so. This project is a great idea and I hope we can continue it for a long time.
I've been putting this off. Partly it's because I put everything off lately (not today, though, on which I somehow made a reasonable list and crossed everything off of it). But mostly it's because I really value what we're doing here, so the stakes are high and I want to get this exactly right.
I wonder where to begin in terms of responding to what you've written. I don't want to take every point in turn, because each one would require so much space to really deal with adequately and then you'd have to write something even more comprehensive in response and then we'd each wind up with way too much homework. So instead I want to say a few things about what I'm reading in between the lines, so to speak.
I have to say that I'm surprised in many ways by what you wrote. It's been so long since we've even broached this topic that I had no idea what your positions might be at this point. But the positions weren't what surprised me; it was the sense that you feel like you aren't entitled to your views, or that a sanctimonious opposition would draw ungenerous conclusions about you as a result of those views.
In some ways your sense is totally accurate. Some of what you wrote in your first letter would probably get you labeled certain ways in certain circles. What's interesting, though, is that the appeal to morality that seems to underpin a lot of what makes your head spin is the same appeal that would get you branded. In other words, you have a sense of right and wrong that leads you to your views; not the obvious, bumper sticker views like "don't be gay," but the more subtle "I have a right to my bumper sticker" view.
In other words, you feel that you should have the right to your position to the extent that taking it doesn't provoke moral outrage. But it COMES from moral outrage of some kind, right? So that's where we lock horns. I, for instance, think that something like gay rights is a complete no-brainer and that you can't say "you can't get married" at the same time as you say "I don't discriminate against you." Certainly you have the right to feel as you feel, write about it, go on the radio, etc etc. But I think that exercising the moral muscle, so to speak, works both ways and that outrage at that position is a result of the same kind of thinking.
The question at the core of this project is what to do with mutual moral outrage. I don't really have an answer for that one. But I'm hoping we can keep trying. I certainly don't think we have to surrender our senses of right and wrong. Maybe the first thing to note, though, is that I don't think that seeing the difference of opinion as morality vs amorality is helpful. It's not the case that one side has "values" and the other is running around being politically correct out of moral failing, out of an erosion of a sense of right and wrong.
So maybe a first step out of deadlock is to agree, first of all, that it IS in fact deadlock, that we're both making an appeal based on deeply held senses that we are in the right on moral, ethical grounds.
Know what I mean?
As you may know if you've been following along, I asked my dad to respond to the now-viral video of President Obama's thank you to his staff. I definitely didn't expect this. But, as he said to me in his email from this morning, "perhaps we should have no expectations."
I’ve watched the video a few times and you are right. What you see, as you put it, is a humbled public servant in an unscripted moment as he thanks campaign workers. He comes across as eloquent and deeply moved by the circumstances. What he told the young people there came from the heart. It’s no wonder Obama himself was moved to tears at this baring of the soul. I can see why you feel the way you do.
If only there had been more moments like this during the last four years. Here you see someone you can believe in because of the simple honesty in which the message is delivered. Where I differ is that this was not the way Obama usually carried out his duties. A case about your assessment of a person self-possessed can be made even though it is not as apparent to me in this video.
So let’s agree that we see this video very similarly. What we will disagree on in the upcoming essays are the actual policies, the unkept promises and mistakes. We will agree on the good things that Obama has been able to do and question whether these positives can make the case for another 4 year term of the same, however moot that is at this point.
I’m glad you began this project. I admit I feel relief that I can share these things with you and I think the way you set it up is ingenious. It allows us to discuss without fear of repercussion. The neutral party in these writings is the readers that we know are there even though they are not present at the time. You are brilliant!
Brilliant is a bit much, no?
I am happy to report that my Dad is on board with this project, and sent me his first installment. Here goes:
I wanted to write this as an introduction before watching the video. I thought it might be a good way to start. Thank you for your ideas that led me to find the direction in this first discourse. Your project is a good one. Let’s hope that this project can inspire some change in thought, some moving together for the people that read it.
Always proud of you,
November 7, 2012
The election of 2012 has come and passed. Barack Obama has won a second term and I support our president. I did not vote for him either time but once elected the nation should stand behind our president and pray that the decline in our country will halt its steady downhill progression.
There are things that have happened during the first term of the Obama presidency that lead me to question my own sanity at times. Certainly I question what is going on in our country. I don’t recognize some of it any more. Of course there is always a great amount of change in science, technology, politics, to some degree morality etc. These changes can be both good and bad; an improvement in one area can be a benefit but at the same time there can be unforeseen unintended consequences that don’t appear till later.
The automobile is a case in point. The first exhaust emitting engines were dirty. Human innovation made engines that were cleaner burning. The early days of coal production created an unhealthy environment in the air and water, but now coal burning is cleaner and is not a threat to the environment as it once was. Let’s not forget cell phones and text messaging, oh how we need them. It is certainly a great invention. Then along came distracted driving causing accidents and deaths, people walking into light poles and falling into pools, people so busy they can’t have a one on one conversation with you but must share the conversation with a myriad other things going on. I’ve heard of parents who must communicate with their adolescent children via texting while in the same room with them! Have you noticed that another unintended consequence is a whole segment of our society that does not know how to have a conversation or put together cohesive and cogent sentences?
What is it that leads me to question my own sanity? I have a core set of principles and values that I live by. I’ve also made many mistakes in my life. Not everyone shares my values of course and everyone is entitled to believe what they will. My dilemma is that some voices have become so loud that to disagree with them automatically casts you in a negative and biased light. The result is a silence, a non-communication. Better to stay quiet than to be labeled intolerant, racist, sexist, or judgmental. Better to stay quiet than be the one person with a differing view and be mocked for it.
· If you are not pro-gay rights you are labeled a homophobe and bigot. It does not matter if your belief is based on religious teachings. It does not matter that you believe a person’s sexual orientation is no one else’s business. You do not discriminate because of that.
· If you criticize this president you are automatically a racist. It does not matter that your criticism is based on what you believe are mistakes in foreign policy, economic policy, or lack of leadership.
· You are not allowed to believe that there is a segment of the population that does not work even though they are able. To think them to be leeches or scammers of the system is not allowed. If you believe this then you are close minded, intolerant, and a racist to boot.
· If you believe that a 33 year old able bodied woman should pay for her own birth control pills instead of the taxpayer, then you are part of the war on women. And if you are dumb struck that this woman is actually a model for others then you are a sexist. You certainly do not understand.
· If you believe that the media has shown very little outrage or even interest in some of the serious events that have occurred during this administration you are an extreme right wing fanatic. To express the opinion that the same events under a republican administration would create such a media frenzy that it would be difficult or almost impossible to govern, then you are a crazy conspiracy loon.
In this reconciliation project that Andrea has started I am hoping that I will be able to express an opinion based on my view and experience. Many of you who read this undoubtedly will disagree with me. I expect that. But I will have you know I am not a bad person, I do not automatically hate. I just have a differing opinion. I dearly love my family. My wife and sons is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I get immense joy watching the antics of my first grandson Max. I look forward to that joy being multiplied as more grandchildren enter this world.
Shortly after the election I watched this video of President Obama thanking his team. It inspired me to do something, and so here we are, launching the Reconciliation Project, a way for us to talk things through in a way that doesn't, hopefully, result in our tearing each other to shreds.
I suspect that we reacted to the news of the President's reelection in equal and opposite ways. For me I expected to feel more relief than inspiration. There have been some disappointments in the last four years, and maybe because of that I was nowhere nearly as involved with the campaign as I was in 2008. This year, rather than go door-to-door in Nevada and Pennsylvania, C and I sent enough money for the magnetic bumper sticker, which I stuck on your car door in an attempt at a joke, and that was about it.
But something happened as I watched the returns come in. I started to feel something besides relief. Gratitude. Pride. More than that, though, I felt a desire to participate. Besides voting and buying a bumper sticker, I wanted to feel like I was working to bend that long moral arc toward justice, to cast it in someone else's poetic terms.
But please don't feel like that means I am trying to change your mind, to bring you over to my way of thinking. Instead, I want to start a conversation between us that I am starting to fear will never otherwise take place. And maybe we'll become an internet sensation and inspire other conversations like this one. Or maybe we'll just figure some things out for ourselves, about "the other side" and about each other. I think it's worth it to try.
Which brings me to the volley: what do you see when you watch this video? I see an unscripted, honest snapshot of a principled public servant, humbled but still self-possessed. I expect that you see something markedly different. So I am hoping that you'll "read" this moment for me. And I'm hoping, even more, that this act of interpretation can start something that we'll both find immensely valuable and worthwhile.
You mentioned that you'd written something after the election, and feel free to post that instead of or in addition to this video idea. But maybe watching the video will give you a way to articulate those thoughts and give them the purpose or the "going somewhere" that you felt they lacked on the page as they stood. As you wish. I'm looking forward to whatever you decide.
Welcome to the Reconciliation Project.