A Better Choice

I don’t know about you, but this past week has had an almost surreal feel to it.  Our nation’s long and contentious election is finally over, with a result that surprised many of us.  I had hoped that the end of the election would also bring an end to the ugliness, but sadly, that didn’t happen.  The internet is filled with the same intolerance, anger, attacks, and counter attacks that we saw during the campaign months and it seems as if there is no end in sight to any of it.  Sweeping generalizations seem to be the norm, along with finger-pointing, blame, and a complete refusal to listen to anyone who has a different point of view.

I actually considered taking a break from it all by refusing to watch any television news, staying off social media sites, and avoiding the internet all together.  It’s just too depressing, and sometimes makes me feel as if there is no hope for our country, or even our world, when so many people seemed so intent on sharing every single angry thought that crosses their minds, with no concern for whom they happen to hurt in the process.

But then I realized that by doing so, I would also be cutting myself off from many friends and family members who live far away from me and stay in touch via Facebook.  And I would also be withdrawing from the world of blogging, and I didn’t particularly want to take a break from the blogs I enjoy reading and from my blogging friends whose writing and comments usually brighten my day.  There is certainly a lot on the internet and news that’s upsetting, but there is also a lot that is comforting and affirming, and I can’t avoid the bad stuff without also cutting myself off from the good.

So, I decided that it’s time for me to simply get on with the business of living my life.  I’ll complete the necessary chores before me, continue with my writing and volunteer work, speak up (in a civil and respectful way) when I see injustice, and take care of my family and those who need me.  An when I do find myself feeling angry and threatened, I’ll try very hard to remember that it’s not okay to take those feelings out on other people.  I’ll also try very hard to focus on all that is good and positive in my life.

In just two days, my son is getting married to a wonderful young woman who is going to be a terrific daughter-in-law.  Friends and family are going to gather around them as they take this important step together, affirming their love and their commitment to each other.  We will eat, drink, laugh and dance (or in my case, try to dance) together as we celebrate this union.  Because often, in spite of everything that is going on around us, life can still be very, very, good.

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Understanding Politics

I admit that I’m no fan of politics, probably because I understand it just about as well as I understand trigonometry, which means I don’t understand it at all.   If I’m in the room when two people get into a heated political argument, it takes very little time for me to be so overwhelmed by the points, counter points and accusations being flung back and forth that I just tune out.  (Which is exactly same reaction I have if someone is trying to explain trigonometry to me.)  But while I might not understand all the intricate workings of the American political system, I can’t help but notice that there are certain patterns to the way that many people deal with politics, and I thought I’d pass those along.

IMG_1144First of all, I’ve learned that words are very important.  If the candidate you like says something untrue, then he or she “misspoke.”  But if the candidate you don’t like says something untrue, then he or she “lied.”  Similarly, the candidate you like has “friends,” while the candidate you don’t like has only “cronies.”  The one word that is never uttered is “hypocrite,” for obvious reasons.

Viewpoint is also important.  If you like the current President, then everything that is wrong with our country is blamed on Congress.  If you don’t like the current President, then everything that is wrong with our country is blamed on the President.  If both the President and majority of Congress are members of the party you vote for, then everything that is wrong with our country is blamed on some other group.  At the moment, the two most popular scapegoat choices seemed to be immigrants and the rich.  (And “the rich” means anyone with more money than you.)

Constantly sharing your political opinions is considered a good thing.  Posting them daily on Facebook, working them into every casual discussion, and speaking up at family dinners with a pleasant conversation starter such as “Candidate X is a complete moron who will ruin our country” is apparently very necessary.  We all know how short attention spans are these days, so it’s best not to trust anyone to remember how we think they should vote, and why, just because we told them so yesterday.  I think this is the same rationale used by the groups that make watching TV during an election years so fun by running the exact same campaign ad five times in a row.

Finally, be sure to idolize your favorite political candidate and absolutely do not tolerate any criticism of him or her.  If someone persists in sharing facts that tarnish your idol, try name-calling.  (What worked in kindergarten can also work now. )  Better yet, distance yourself from anyone who doesn’t share your political views, no matter who they are.  You probably have more close friends and relatives than you need anyway.

Again, I am certainly no expert on politics, and am just reporting what I have observed.  There also seems to be an alternative model for being politically active, which involves simply supporting and even campaigning for the candidate of your choice without abandoning good manners or common sense.  I’m lucky enough to know several people who fall into that category.  And if I were ever forced to become more involved in politics, that’s the group I would hope to join.  Sometimes it’s good to be in the minority.

What Am I?

IMG_1080I have gotten to the point where I just hate labels.  Not the kind of labels we find on our groceries, of course…they keep me from eating too much sodium or trans fat, and that’s a good thing.   I mean the labels that we give ourselves, and worse, the labels we assign to other people.  Maybe it’s because I’m not much of a joiner, and no matter what group of people I’m with, I almost always feel like the “odd one out.”  Or maybe it’s because most of the people I know well are complicated, complex individuals who don’t fit the labels that we toss about so casually.  All I know is that the minute people start assigning labels, to themselves or to others, I get very uncomfortable.

Don’t get me wrong, I do understand why people like labels so much.  We want to know something about each other, and being able to identify someone as a “Southerner” or a “Liberal” or a “Protestant” seems as if it would help.  We think it gives us a point of reference, of knowing just how much someone is like us, or even whether or not we think the person is worth bothering to get to know.  Sorting everyone neatly into categories seems like an efficient way to deal with all the people who cross our path, and we know right away who’s “in” and who’s “out.”  What could be simpler?

The trouble is, simple isn’t always good, or accurate.  There are tons of different interpretations of just about every label out there, and it’s a mistake to just assume that our interpretation is the same as someone else’s.  (Personally, I am still completely confused on just what exactly is the difference between a “right-wing dictator” and a “left-wing dictator,” yet we hear those terms all the time as if everyone knows.)  It’s sort of like when we talk to someone from another country and they ask, “What do Americans think about that?”  And the only honest answer I can give is, “That depends on which American you ask.”  We may all live in the same country, but we definitely do not all think alike.

And that, I think, is what I find the most offensive about labels:  the assumption that everyone within that label thinks exactly alike and shares exactly the same values. I don’t want to be “assigned” a to a group that I don’t truly fit in with, and I haven’t yet found a group that I always agree with, on everything.  Or even a group I usually agree with, if I’m totally honest.  And I doubt very seriously that I ever will.

I want the freedom to think for myself, and to draw my own conclusions.  I want to be allowed to have a “conservative” opinion on one issue, and a “liberal” opinion on another.  I want to associate with lots of different kinds of people so that I never stop learning, never stop expanding my personal horizons, and, most importantly, never become complacent in the supposed superiority my own beliefs.  I also want the option of changing my mind, either because I’ve learned new facts or because I’ve simply finally figured out that the way I’ve always thought about something is just plain wrong.

But I know that there are always going to be people who prefer labels, and that there are always going to be people who are eager to stick a label on me.  And when that’s the case, the label I’d prefer is simply “human.”  That one fits me like a glove.