Monday, September 19, 2011

The Problem of Opinion

by Julia Buckley
Seth Meyers said something quite memorable in his 2011 speech at the White House Correspondent's Dinner, during which he discussed Congress and the fact that one Congressional Representative's behavior was lauded as "adult." Meyers said:

"Nothing is so depressing about politics than the fact that 'adult' is now a compliment. 'Adult' is only a compliment to a child: 'I'm so proud of you; you acted like an adult tonight. I'm glad I brought you to my boss's house for dinner. You even cut your own meat like a big boy.'

Also, Congress, there are a lot of things you want us to be impressed by that we are not impressed by: we are not impressed that you sat next to each other at The State of the Union. You know what the rest of America calls an evening spent politely sitting next to a person with wildly different political views? Thanksgiving."

We're not impressed when you complain that bills are too long to read. 'The Health Care Bill is almost 2000 pages!' Good! A bill that ensures healthcare to every person in America should be longer than THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Also while we're at it, I don't think you read bills anyway. I think you guys vote on bills in the same way the rest of us agree to updated terms and conditions on i-Tunes."

There were several elements of Meyer's satire that I found effective, especially his message to a Congress whose job approval rating, even back in December of 2010, was found to be "the worst in Gallup Poll history."

But I also agreed with Meyers' assessment of the family Thanksgiving. Are there any families out there who share similar political views and basic ideologies with other members of their clan? When I was young, I never understood the maxim that one should never discuss religion or politics at the table. Now that I've tried to do both, I realize exactly how it originated. I suppose it's hypocritical of me to criticize the polarization of Congress when I encounter the same sort of polarization within my family.

I foolishly entered a political debate with my own dear uncle, on Facebook of all things, and the entries on both sides grew longer and longer. Finally a dear friend and fellow mystery writer stepped in and posted, "I give you credit for trying, Julia. But you'll never change his mind."

It was true; my uncle and I agreed that we were deadlocked. He wasn't going to change my views, and I wasn't going to change his. But it's clear that we are both convinced the other person is just about 100% wrong. So I have learned: no voicing controversial opinions with family; no controversial statements on Facebook; certainly none in my classroom, which would be an abuse of the podium.

So the question is--should we share our opinions at all? Are opinions meant to kept private, or should we be contributing more to the public dialogue? If it's B, how can we create a civil public discourse that allows respect for both sides?

It seems now more than ever everyone has an opinion, and it tends to be a strong one. Do you share yours or keep mum? Do you feel there is value to sharing it, or value to keeping it to yourself?

I certainly value your opinion here, no matter what it is.


Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Julia, I hate to discuss politics or anything involving belief systems with people who disagree with me. I come by it honestly: my mother, whose longterm friends diverged farther and farther to the left and right over the decades, learned to play bridge at the age of 76 because the conversation at her dinner parties had become so acrimonious. With bridge instead of conversation, at least the acrimony was confined to the partnered couples. ;)

Julia Buckley said...

But I think that you (and I) share this trait with--dare I say it--the majority of people. So how do we ever reach a consensus on important matters?

Is there a cure for polarization?

Sandra Parshall said...

It's pointless to argue with people about politics, religion, etc. An argument never changed anybody's mind. If I feel compelled to express an opinion, I will, but that doesn't mean I want to start a discussion.

However, I believe members of Congress have a duty to be flexible and open to compromise, for the good of the country.

Julia Buckley said...

Yes--I call upon our Congressional representatives to be statesmen and women.

And I'm guessing that if we had to, my uncle and I could complete a project together. :)