By Robert Esse
It is certainly an understatement to call these interesting times. I’m not one to look back and wish for how things used to be, and I certainly consider myself an optimist in nearly all things. But having lived nearly four score years, the domestic scene today can be considered “dynamic” and I think much different from earlier times.
We are essentially operating in an environment that brings to mind words such as “loggerhead” or “impass,” or in some instances a “Mexican standoff.” We see many examples in Washington, D.C., and St. Paul and even closer to home at times.
The decision by Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe to call it quits, mostly because various factions were insisting that things had to be “their way” or her life would change forever, is an excellent current example. She wanted to concentrate on the deficit and getting the economy back on track, but detractors stopped her in her tracks. Being a moderate is currently unacceptable to many.
Campaigning has always been something of a massacre of character, but today we are stooping to new lows. The so-called debates are far removed from what Lincoln/Douglas undertook to educate the public. They would select a particular topic and one would talk for 60 minutes, and then the other had the podium for 90 minutes. The first speaker had the final 30 minutes. It’s difficult to comprehend the depth of knowledge required on the various topics to stand up and speak about it for that length of time without your “handlers” as we sometimes observe today. They did not worry about sound bites.
Members of Congress used to regularly have dinners together or share activities or, as I have read, even went bowling together - and we’re talking members of opposite parties. God forbid today even considering such endeavors. Thus, if you have no personal relationship with the person you are debating on any given subject, you state your position and adopt a “take it or leave it” attitude and have no reason to even consider compromising because you do not know the individual. You have no knowledge of their character or morals or family, so they are simply the opposition.
We recently lost an eminent social scientist named James Q. Wilson. He was best known for his “broken windows” theory, which led New York City to fix the windows in vacant structures to reduce the expectation of crime in certain neighborhoods, and it worked. He also espoused that people should behave in a balanced way. Think about the long-term consequences of your actions. Cooperate. Be decent. I would add be tolerant. Consider what walking in another person’s shoes might be like, and most importantly, check your ego!
Is not egotism a basic issue with many of our conflicts today? “My religious beliefs are critical to the survival of the human race and everyone else needs to adhere to the principles that I believe in.” “The principles of the Tea Party are here in black and white and you either buy in or we will work to remove you from office.” “We know what the United States needs better than anyone else.” Candidates sign on to the full slate of their elements or they may get slaughtered. “Sign this ‘no tax’ pledge if you want our backing.” That is all the work of our ego.
I do not intend to only pick on the Tea Party; they are just an example of what we see across many disciplines today. Apparently the world will end if a lesbian becomes a minister in certain synods. The marriage amendment is costing significant amounts of money on both sides and for what purpose? So that everyone will have to adhere to your thinking - because you know right from wrong and we all need to follow your principles. And let’s not bring up abortion or contraception with its many emotional elements on both sides. Each side simply knows what is right. Should not a larger cross-section of citizens be involved than just the president in an edict stating that contraceptives will be free to anyone, paid by everyone?
I attended a local caucus. The economy is in a slow recovery. The deficit is major and something is needed to rectify that. The entitlements of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are unsustainable in their current format. Unemployment levels are hurting many families and homeowners are ending up in foreclosure. Veterans are having difficulty returning into the workforce. So what was the critiquing of the candidates at the caucus? How they stood on social issues! When we have so many giant issues to solve, basing your voting decision on social issues apparently is one way of doing it. These areas are extremely contentious and even within one’s own family or religion there are strong disagreements. So with the many extremely critical issues needing debate and decisions, why do these areas become the litmus test for performance? It boggles my mind.
Black and white may not be primary colors, but that is how many people see life. One thing I have learned is there are many shades of each. These shades may even change from one day to the next. And I regularly find that my reading or having discussions with another person brings enlightenment to dimensions of an issue that I had not considered or that I thought I had previously resolved.
I want to exit this wandering dissertation with the word “tolerance.” To have tolerance and respect for our fellow man is critical for resolving our differences. And not all of them need to be resolved. We can agree to disagree. Tuck your ego into your pocket and open your eyes and ears to someone else’s lifestyle or point of view. As the old adage states, you have two ears and one mouth - use them in that ratio.
Robert Esse lives in Silver Creek Township