Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Right and Left

Once, when I was a teenager, I went to a family Christmas party with one of my friends. As I sat on a sofa in a living room, surrounded by strangers, I was raptly fascinated by the scenes unfolding around me. There were, perhaps, 20 people, all related except for me, in conversational pairs. They spoke and spoke to each other, quickly becoming more and more frustrated until they turned to another person and began the whole process over again.

What made this scene so fascinating to me was that each pair of conversationalists were having completely unrelated conversations with each other. One example: "I'm so glad we can all get together for Christmas this year." from a lady, to which the other lady responds "Yes, I liked the blue one the best too." and then each of them would look at each other, baffled, and instead of clarifying the conversational subject matter they would each continue upon their own streams of thought, never even approaching each other in their communication.

I have to admit that I have never seen anything quite so strange in all of the years I've lived since then, and I have occasionally revisited the experience to ponder the family dynamics which yielded such amazing lack of interpersonal communication ability, but have lately been reminded of that odd situation whenever I hear political "righties" and "lefties" talk about each other.

I don't consider myself to be on either side of that continuum. I would, in fact, generally call myself a-political about politics. Since I am not invested in either side I find myself listening to both and often wondering what any of them are talking about.

It seems to me that both the right and left are constantly constructing straw man arguments against the other side, neither really listen to each other, both make faulty assumptions at every turn, and generally show neither good communication or reasoning abilities when confronted with the "evil specter" of the other side.

Generally I would find such a situation more intriguing and amusing than anything else, but the thing is that feelings have escalated to a point that I find truly disturbing. It is not uncommon to find people on either side of that line spitting venomous epithets at people who disagree with them, asserting that "x's should be sterilized" or silenced, and even sometimes that they should be done away with. It is this irrational hate that disturbs, and even frightens, me. How, in a land where we all profess to desire and value freedom, can any of us justify calls to silence anyone's opinion?

Admittedly, the vast majority of people on both sides of any given issue are not spouting such ideas. Most of us are reasonably rational and fair people; it's just that the unreasonable fanatics are often the loudest of any of us.

My personal observations about the right and left: Both sides are composed of individuals who want to live their lives in peace, be free to raise their families as they want, want to find happiness in what they do, are generally friendly to individual people even when they "hate" some groups of people (and this applies equally to both sides of the fence), in fact I'd say that mostly they share the same core values; kindness, respect, honesty, generosity, responsibility, hope and gentleness... they just take different routes to get there sometimes.

What really amuses me sometimes is that people can be so divided from each other and set on disagreeing with "the other side" that they can't recognize when they are both arguing for the same thing... and wonder why they aren't getting anywhere :)