Tuesday, November 09, 2004

We're not bitter

In which I try to be a better person, for selfish narcissistic

It is only after the election that any use for Alan Keyes has become
apparent: he is the perfect definition of an ugly loser. It was clear from
the jump that his off-the-bench Hail Mary campaign was doomed, even to
the Illinois Republicans who recruited and ran him for U.S. Senate.(Say
one thing for Chicago, the city of the Bulls, Bears and Cubs knows the
dynamics of crushing defeat).In the only race the exit polls got right,
Keyes was utterly stomped by rising star Barak Obama. I’m not even sure
Keyes made it into double-digits, yet he refuses to concede. Instead he
rants on in what’s left of his press coverage, wildly blaming anyone and
anything besides himself, threatening darkly, and in general throwing a
combination hissy fit and pity party that would make Dick Nixon blush.

I’m saying this not to chide our dear Republican allies, who seem to
have developed the tenderest of sensibilities since they steam-rolled us
in the national elections. Even with our faces planted in the asphalt,
and tread marks across our “Run Against Bush” t-shirts, some highly-sensitive
columnists feel they can discern the slightest smidgen of spine still protruding,
the traces of a sneer on our “unchurched” faces AND THEY DON’T LIKE IT
ONE BIT. You could even compare them to the easily-offended PC-types they
used to mock, if you were uncharitable.

But that’s my point about the sorry Mr. Keyes: anyone can see that his
road is not a good way to go. It’s not a credit to his supporters or his
Party, and he’s making himself miserable and ridiculous. Equally distasteful
but more amazing were the chat-boards after the Bush sweep. The victors
were screaming, cursing, hurling insults, calling the vilest of names (Yes,
that stuff is part of the on-line game, but this was markedly more shrill
and much more one-sided than usual). Reading their rage-filled postings,
you would have thought the red side had the election blatantly stolen from
them. Ahem. Yes, well-- sore losers, sore winners-- people of character
can do better. It’s gut check time, America.

Let’s agree. You won; well-played. And 51 - 48 is not a shut-out, there
are millions of Americans who voted each way and a whole slew of folk we
didn’t hear from. I’ve been bashed, you’ve been bashed, all God’s children
have been bashed. (Or, in my scripture, I would not feel so all alone,
everybody must get stoned.) Let’s all go get burritos! OK, that’s not helping.

I’m going to appeal to faith. Yes, me. A few weeks ago I got trapped
into listening to a Public Radio show that usually causes me to hit the
dial so fast I miss my exit. It’s on at about zero a.m. Sunday morning,
and it’s called Speaking
of Faith
. Now here’s what made this particular episode worthwhile:
it included people of different faiths. Faiths, not sects, because pluralism
is a value too. Yes, there was a born-again
type (and, OK, another one on tape, and hosting) and also
a Rabbi, a Professor
of Islamic studies
and a Buddhist teacher.

From the Buddhist
I learned that in Pali, the language of the original Buddhist texts, ‘anger’
and ‘fear’ are the same word. An ironic analysis
of the election paints it as a choice between anger and fear. No wonder
so many of us are looking for a way out, a way past this ugly impasse. 
If you turn down the volume, in fact turn off the TV and ignore the politicianss,
party hacks and pundits altogether, you can hear voices like F.
Peter Phillips
of Montclair, NJ: “Maybe the lesson of both elections
[2000, 2004] is that we need to work much harder to listen to each other
and to take in what we're hearing.”

This seems to be similar to the process Rabbi Kushner invokes when he
describes how difference and disagreement can be a way of respecting each
other. “Our commonality,” he says [at around 23:30 on the download]
“comes from passionately clinging to our uniqueness and our individuality
and our difference. I am convinced that I start by telling you who I am
and what I believe. And then I arm-wrestle with you, we have a big fight
about it: that’s healthy, that’s fun. In Jewish tradition, arguing is a
mark of high respect.” He tells a story about sitting in a coffee shop
as a rabbinical student with all his books, and an old guy coming up to
him and saying, “So, how about an argument?”  A thoroughly friendly,
polite overture, like the one he makes next to the show’s (Protestant)

Right now, if you and I were really brave, and really fortified and
really spiritually secure, and we dared open our hearts to one another,
there’s no telling what would happen to us as a result of this conversation. 
I would really have to listen to you, and I would have to be prepared for
the possibility that you would have something new to tell me that I’ve
never heard before, and once I heard it I would be different.  And
if you sensed that I had heard it and I was different, that would make
you different, and then we’d have to start all over again. …I also expect
that if you continue to be honest, and I continue to be honest, and we
stay at it long enough, that we’ll each discover that we have one another’s
cards in our hands.

From my humanist perspective, this is precisely the goal of education.
To learn how to listen to various points of view (of a poet, figure in
history, scientific theory, person leaving a poll, the guy in seat 34B,
etc) with understanding. This is hard, exacting work. You don’t have to
agree with the other point of view, but you have to walk in its shoes,
sit down and have a beverage with it, really get to know it so you can
see how it fits with, challenges, and changes what you think. This is a
skill, an art, a habit of mind. Not elitist, but worthwhile. And like hitting
the curveball or programming or cooking it takes time and practice, the
will and dedication to invest those, the coaching and guidance to perfect
them. Like freedom, it’s not free, and it don’t come easy. It’s just invaluable,


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