From divots to division, find middle ground
Hey you – in the tie-dyed “Free Mumia” dashiki – would you mind getting me a Fresca? Oh, and you with the American Spectator Ann Coulter swimsuit issue – how about a bag of pretzels? Sure you guys don’t mind? That’d be great. See you. Bye-bye.
They gone? Good. Anyway, it was really the rest of you I wanted to talk to – the majority of my neighbors whose political comfort zone is neither rabid right nor militant left, occupying that vast, forgotten territory between Michael Savage and Michael Moore.
Slice off the rigidly ideological whack jobs from the extreme ends of the political spectrum and we’re what’s left. Those of us who care less about hot-button non-issues like flag-burning and gay marriages and wonder why schools are cutting programs, the poor clog emergency rooms, and we’ll finally get to retire about three years after we’re dead.
We’re weary of the partisan rants and name-calling disguised as serious discussion, the nasty, high-volume hyperbole infecting our radio, television – even these pages. There’s no escape from its shrill frenzy. Politics has never been a gentle art, but remember when dissent wasn’t branded as treason? When well-reasoned arguments were valued over high-pitched screeds? When we knew that what divided us was far less than what united us?
How did we get to this place?
I think it all started with retirement villages.
Affluent seniors discovered that you could peel yourself away from anyone who wasn’t 55-plus, white, and crazy for chasing a tiny white ball across the lawn. Once that was accomplished, it wasn’t difficult to confine your interests to the quality of putting green fertilizers and the Early Bird special at the clubhouse. Forget funding schools and libraries – hell, forget the police department – we got private security!
Over time, the trend – marketers call it “segmentation” – spread through specialized cable channels, polarizing talk radio, and Internet-based “virtual communities.” It’s now possible to go through an entire week without risking eye contact with someone of another age or ethnicity. Still worry about bumping into someone even remotely different from yourself? Don’t – that’s why they make electronic gates and guard shacks.
In such an insulated environment, what purpose does being nice serve? Why make the investment in courtesy and civility to people you don’t know and will likely never have to know? Sure, they’re Americans and human beings and all that Dr. Phil stuff. But what they’re not is One Of Us!
It’s taken a generation for civil discourse in this country to reach such a ragged state, so reversing the descent isn’t going to happen overnight. But now, more than ever, it’s time to dive back into the community pool. No need to cannonball into the deep end, but we can start with a little wading in the shallows.
Just for this week, turn off Rush or Fox News and tune into KVMR or take in a “Fahrenheit 9/11” bargain matinee. And vice versa. No one’s asking you to agree with what you see or hear, or even to like it. But at least take a few tentative steps outside the familiar. Look, I’m no fan of Bill O’Reilly, but what he says means something to millions of Americans, and I’d be foolish to pretend it doesn’t matter.
Just for this week, arrange a friendly debate with someone who doesn’t share your political point of view. Buy the beer and bratwurst. Ask someone who doesn’t attend your church why they oppose federal funds for faith-based programs. Ask someone who’s not on your “Solidarity Committee” how invading Iraq has made us safer. Then listen. Don’t just hear, don’t interrupt, listen. Be patient, open, and respectful. When the last beer’s drained, offer a smile and a handshake. Hugs optional.
Because, contrary to what the media would have you believe, it is possible to disagree without abandoning our spirit of civility. And who knows? This kind of decency could even spread to politicians and cable commentators.
What’s that? They’re back? Okay, everybody – act natural.
Hey, guys. Thanks for the pretzels and – diet Fresca? Did I ask for a diet Fresca?
Bill Rolland is a corporate writer and southern Nevada County resident who’s developing hard feelings for the goats. More about Bill Rolland is at http://www.billrolland.com.
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