I know you were scrolling through your social media when you ran across this blog entry of mine because, though I enjoy writing and I've received overwhelming encouragement to write more and get it published, I'm an amateur. My words won't appear in a big newspaper or even a small town newspaper more than likely which is fine by me. The fact that you found this in your social media or online somewhere will actually negate the need for me to fill in a lot of context that would be necessary for someone who would only see this in a newspaper if it were there.
No doubt in your online travels you run across lots of articles from varying news sources, posts from friends shared with their opinion or take on a given article, and you probably saw at least a meme or two that made you chuckle or become upset. As you come across these stories and opinions and quippy memes do you stop to consider the source? Do you consider the perspective of the individual posting them? Would a snarky comment and article that challenge your deeply held convictions ever change your mind about a topic?
Examining our Convictions
There are some things I hold dear that I will probably never be swayed on. For instance, I'm a baseball fan. More importantly, I'm a Chicago Cubs fan. It could easily be argued that with 108 years between World Series titles the Chicago Cubs are an awful team and that I should root for a more successful franchise like the Yankees or the Braves but it is an argument that would fall on deaf ears. I will blindly hold on to my love of the Cubbies for all my remaining days.....unless they move the team or do something inconceivably and unimaginably awful like take down the Harry Carey statue outside Wrigley Field.
This is a deeply held conviction that I would argue is okay to hold. It is a sports team, it's entertainment, and it is of little consequence to how I live my life or how others live theirs. My fandom probably doesn't affect you and if it does we might trade some lighthearted barbs about our rivalry. Heck, I'll take potshots at a St. Louis Cardinal fan every now and then. They've got a lot more to brag about than I do anyway.
I'll defend my preference for The Beatles over The Rolling Stones. You can't change my mind that Futurama is a better show than The Simpsons. My kids are the best kids in the world by the way.
Other deeply held views are worth challenging however. At 40, I like to think I have amassed a little wisdom that leads me to believe we all have opportunities to transform our way of thinking about things. Sometimes our evolution is slow and gradual and sometimes our transformations come as a result of sudden and major life changes that cause us to reexamine our perspective. In either case, the changes we undergo come from within more often than at the behest or suggestion of someone else.
Once Upon a Time
For the first 15 years or so of my adult life I doubt anyone that knew me would deny I was anything but a fan of politics and a staunch conservative. I read Rush Limbaugh's first two books before I was 16 and tuned my radio to 840 WHAS from 9:00AM until I got home in the evening. If I was watching TV news there was a 90% chance I was going to be watching FOX News. I really came of age during the Clinton years when Limbaugh was at the height of his game and every opportunity I had to vote resulted in a straight ticket vote for the Republican party.
I believed in the economy boosting powers of tax cuts, that trickle down economics was really the best way to make sure working folks like me had a job, that labor unions had outlived their usefulness, that affirmative action was keeping me from getting into the best schools and from getting higher paying jobs, and that capitalism and the competition it creates drove people to be the best and succeed. I believed that our country was going bankrupt by funding entitlements and social programs like welfare and food stamps.
I firmly believed that the tax-and-spend liberals were draining and wasting my paycheck by giving it away to people that weren't willing to work as hard as I did. If I worked hard I would succeed and if I worked hard and didn't succeed it was because the lazy people were taking the fruits of my labor and getting a free ride. Liberals were taking it all away from me and dumping it all into failing public schools and giving benefits to illegal immigrants.
Amazing how the narrative hasn't changed much in 20 years. They blasted victim culture but turned me into a loyal victim fighting for their cause.
I can remember actually losing sleep over the 2000 election as we waited to find out if my vote for George W. Bush would be overturned by "activist judges" trying to steal the election for the Democrats. Even if i disagreed with the party on a number of social issues, I knew that I was voting for the party of fiscal responsibility and "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" attitudes that our country so desperately needed.
I argued with people for fun. I had a counter for any point a liberal could make to try to tear down my philosophy. I had data and figures to refute any challenges....of course I know now that all of those nuggets I used to back up my argument were spoon-fed talking points from my news/commentary bubble.
I was so convinced I was right. I found confirmation of my world view everywhere I looked. It was a small world view and I admittedly wasn't very open to the idea of listening to anyone who held a different view point. I was bold and unflappable in my beliefs....I could mock others because I knew they were so wrong.
A Chink In The Armor
Somewhere around 2010 I had moved into a job in front line supervision and began hiring some entry level employees. I interviewed dozens of people for a number of positions and was surprised by the people I met that weren't qualified....not just because they didn't have the skill set or background for the position I was hiring for but because some of them struck me as people that wouldn't be able to perform some of the most basic tasks without constant supervision. I was more taken aback by the amount of these people that had been unemployed for some time and had children, families, and yet here they were; they were applying for any job they could find and making a real effort to come to interviews and try the best they knew how to get work.
Many of them said they would take all the hours they could get, that they would do anything. Even once I explained the job to someone who wasn't familiar with it and they acknowledged they probably weren't the right one for that job they would ask about any other position or if there was part time work. I met a lot of people without a lot of skills. I met minorities. I met Immigrants. I met people that looked like me. Many of them had lost a job and had been looking for months and I knew they had to be getting some assistance from somewhere....family, unemployment, food stamps, housing assistance. They were anything but lazy and were definitely not just gaming the system.
This experience exposed me to a lot of people and backgrounds that I didn't understand before and when I finished filling the openings I had I found that I was left with one nagging question that I couldn't answer. If there are this many people who are struggling and trying and in my assessment....pretty much unemployable, who will take care of them if they cannot provide for themselves?
The Search For Answers
This question, this counterpoint, was one that I came to on my own and the answer to my questions was one I had to discover for myself. It was a long process and a long story that I won't detail in this already lengthy blog entry suffice to say that this was the seed that grew into a period of discovery and self examination that resulted in my votes going to a lot of Democrats in 2010 and even more in 2012 and beyond.
To find the answers to the questions I had required me to look outside of my bubble. I had to start looking at resources I would never have considered before. I started reading news from new outlets. I started researching both sides of a lot of the conservative principles that I had held for all of my life and I stopped listening to talking heads....on either side. To this day, I don't watch television news and I recommend the same to anyone. It's a lazy way to get the news and print is a source you can analyze, fact check, reread, and cite.
To this day I work harder to be informed about the processes we debate in the political spectrum and I can say with great certainty that no one can be an expert on all of it which has bred a great deal of skepticism into the way I approach claims by anyone. That skepticism leads me to fact check almost anything I read and to question my own thoughts on things if I don't study enough before making a claim.
The Power of a Question
When I see a meme today that blasts my ideology or an article that makes a claim it can't back up I don't let it phase me. Name calling, spite, and obscenity aimed at shaming or embarrassing me are a tactic that I find someone laughable because they are so ineffective.
We can't win hearts and minds engaging in the same tactics as those that we disagree with. A snarky meme or snide comment triggers one's defenses and just like I was once so dug in that my response would only be anger, reciprocation, or dismissal, we can't expect those tactics to reach anyone today.
I changed because of a question that I had to find an answer for. I thought my world view was untouchable but the right question shattered it. Instead of being combative with our counter points can we ask better questions?
Today I'm a liberal. Those that share my philosophies and ideals will gain my support. The best part is that I'm still open to questions and my positions change on some topics occasionally.
Conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, Green Party, Tea Party, Libertarian or Democratic Socialist, we can all do more to advance our cause and to find the truth if we ask questions and expose ourselves to people and situations that we can't find in our own bubble. I'm not here to change your views, I'm not here to scold you for your views, I'm just here to tell you that you are hurting yourself and your cause when stop seeking genuine debate and when you refuse to understand the other side.
I still read a lot of conservative news sources but I read just as many left leaning news sources. As in any case, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Go find it, you'll have to step out of your comfort zone to do it though. But what do I know?