Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Pry Open the Doors
I don't really like to discuss politics in an online setting. I think inflection is an important part of serious discussions, for one thing. For another, I don't really think anyone has the right to tell anyone what to think on any given subject. Still, every now and then something is important enough to address.
One of the more interesting classes I took back in the day was An Introduction to Social Anthropology, it's not a field of study I pursued, but it was an interesting class and the woman teaching it had an engaging manner. On the first day of class, after all the formalities of establishing that we were in the right place at the right time (incidentally, as always happened several people seemed to stunned to find out where they were, and promptly left), she said something that stayed with me:
"The biggest challenge you will face in this class is not the course work, or the reading. The biggest challenge you will face is trying to think in something other than absolutes. The role of social anthropology is not to judge, but to understand. If you keep an open mind, you will learn more about the world around you, and have a greater understanding of the people in it."
Then she began to teach. I don't know how many students in the classroom were really listening as she gave her canned opening speech, but I happened to be one of them. I was also busy fiddling with my roommate's tape recorder, since I needed to record the lecture for her, as she was briefly out of town. That's how I ended up hearing that opening multiple times. I dutifully recorded the class, and gave the tape to my roommate. She listened to it repeatedly because of a sound quality problem, but that happened to be a clearly recorded passage. I must have heard it a dozen times and it stuck with me.
So did Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken when she had to memorize it for a class, which she chose to do aloud, for what seemed two solid months. For years my eye practically started to twitch whenever I heard Frost's name, and like some upright version of Pavlov's Dog I'd begin, " Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood..." but that's a different story.
The advice of that long ago teacher was very solid, and applies to more than just a class. If we keep an open mind, and embrace the possibility that we are misinformed to start, there is much to learn and understand in this world. That the world doesn't end when and if we admit that we have more to learn, or find ourselves to be wrong. There is no sin in being wrong. Nothing crumbles if we change our minds, and who knows, it is possible that as we find out more, we may discover that our first inclination was correct.
That teacher was encouraging students to start from a neutral space when approaching what we were to learn. I have to admit, although it was only an introductory class, I did learn about customs in other places that gave me pause, and sometimes shocked and appalled me. I had to work to set that aside, and sometimes I wasn't successful. Seeing merit in other cultures was sometimes a challenge.
By far the most interesting material in the class had to do with social structures in our country, in our own society. The history of gender relations was the thing that interested me the most, and that is something I chose to keep learning about.
I'm bringing this up because at present it is almost impossible to turn on the news, or to log online without seeing evidence of the recent Town Hall Meetings in the United States. Whether people are standing up and shrieking about birth certificates, or screaming that proposed health care reform involves Death Panels convened to judge the worth of your Nana or baby, it's been some pretty appalling stuff. I can't help but ask myself, "How in the world did anyone come to believe this crap?"
Death panels? Death Panels?!? It could not be more obvious that most people are latching onto buzz words, propaganda, smear campaigns and allowing that to serve as the whole of their knowledge base.
Listen, I'm a liberal. I'm not a Democrat, by the way, nor am I a Republican. I don't like to align myself along party lines, I vote the issues, not a ticket. That's what works best for me. If you happen to stumble across this, I'm not seeking to change your affiliation to mine, all I'm saying is that my long ago teacher had a point and it applies to our situation at present:
The biggest challenges we currently face are not the issues at hand, but our tendency to approach situations with preconceived notions as absolutes. The debate about health care cannot be solved when either side engages so broadly in scare tactics designed to obscure actual facts.
I'm not an Obama fan girl. I like him, I voted for him, but I voted for him because he was the choice presented to me that best fit my own political leanings. If we're really getting down to the nitty gritty, Hillary Clinton was my candidate of choice but she didn't make it to the final ticket.
Like the new health care plan, or loathe, please make sure you understand it before you judge it.
It's disheartening to see footage of meetings where people ask, seemingly believing that it is a question that needs to be asked, if Obama's health care plan really plans to euthanize the elderly.
Don't get your information from Fox News, or MSNBC for that matter. Don't look to the Daily Show, or The Colbert Report to make up your mind. Gather information from as many sources as you can, don't listen to soundbites on cable. Heck, don't listen to me, make sure you're well informed and make up your own mind. None of the TV sources named here will keep you well informed, that's something you need to do on your own. Don't let anyone do your thinking for you.
It's not a perfect plan, by the way, at least not in my estimation. We have a situation that needs addressing, that needs a solution. To solve it, we need to be knowledgeable, and we need to quit shouting at each other. When people start shouting, no one is heard, it just gets loud.
It's clear that I support health care reform, and if you don't? I have no quarrel with you. I just want to make sure that you aren't supporting it for the right reasons. If you think that you shouldn't support health care reform because Obama has nefarious plans for your grandmother?
That's not the truth of the matter. Find out the truth and then make up your mind based on as much knowledge as you can gather.