Herald Journal Columns
June 13, 2005, Herald Journal

Politics with a cherry on top

By LIZ HELLMANN

Do you ever feel like no one is listening to you? People can hear you, but they just are not listening.

Well, in lieu of sounding like a bad break-up; it’s not you, it’s them. It’s all of us.

With the past presidential election demonstrating how divided our country is, we should be working together to understand each other. Instead, I feel like the nation is taking part in one big filibuster that never ends.

I remember learning about this wonderful tactic in grade school. I was astonished.

You mean, grown-ups actually keep talking so that people aren’t allowed to vote? I thought they were supposed to be the smart ones.

This nationwide filibuster is a little different than the good old- fashioned ones. In this one, a lot of people are talking, few people are listening, and everyone is voting.

I’m not just talking about politicians, or blaming the right and left wing radicals. It seems nowadays, being opinionated tends to mean thinking you are right, and ignoring everyone else.

Quite the contrary, opinions are supposed to feed discussion and enrich everyone’s viewpoints as a resource to draw on. Opinions are supposed to offer another point of view from which to evaluate an issue.

Instead, opinions are becoming the ironclad truth to those who spout them, and useless rubbish to those who disagree, with no redeeming qualities, or lessons to garner.

Our country is starkly divided. As soon as you tell someone which party you belong to, they already seem to know everything they need to know.

It really is a magical process. I remember being in Chicago for a convention shortly after the last presidential election, and I was talking to some people. They asked me where I was from, and I said Minnesota. Continuing the getting-to-know process, I replied I was a Republican in answer to their “political orientation” question.

Big mistake. Although, I don’t even remember their names anymore, they managed to immediately know everything about me from those four little words. I am a Republican.

Nothing I said from there on out mattered. I simply became “one of those.”

The fact that I disagree with Republicans about some issues, agree with Democrats on others, and sometimes think both of them are out of their minds, didn’t matter. As far as they were concerned, I had no new information to offer.

It goes both ways. Don’t think I haven’t heard people judge “those liberals,” and write them off as being completely no good, awful people that threaten the very fabric of American society.

Apparently as soon as you affiliate yourself with a political party, you cease to be human, and become a robot. Sorry to break the news, but all Republicans do not carry a .45 around their belt at all times, and not all Democrats hug trees.

It’s sort of like telling a little kid there are two choices of ice cream, either vanilla or chocolate. There are hundreds of flavors! There are some with fudge, marshmallows, nuts, peanut butter.

Even McDonald’s has twist cones! And then there are the fruity kinds, but that’s a whole other argument.

One of my college professors once told me, the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know. How true.

The problem has become that we think we already know everything. Simple logic can tell us that we can’t know everything, because everyone disagrees, so someone has to be wrong. I hate to say it, but it could be the person writing this, and it could be the person reading this. It could be both.

So why do we insist on talking over everyone?

If we really believe we are right, then we wouldn’t be afraid to listen to the other side. Whatever arguments they put forth, we would be able to counter, if we were truly right.

I think we all know, on some level that we don’t know everything. But getting over our pride and admitting it is definitely not something most of us want to do.

Besides, it’s a heck of a lot more work to trying to understand everyone, weigh the pros and cons, and then decide. Why go to all that trouble, when we can easily come to a decision that fit our previous mold perfectly?

I guess I thought the idea was to work towards our good, our family’s good, and our country’s good. I didn’t realize it was about finding the quickest answer that’s easiest on our ego.

If we don’t make a genuine effort to listen to others, how can we expect them to listen to us? If we can’t do it, how do we expect our elected officers to do it?

No, it’s simpler to just keep being straight vanilla or chocolate, if we start mixing it up it gets confusing. How much chocolate do we add? How many vanilla scoops are really necessary?

I think children have the right idea. Fill the bowl with vanilla, pour chocolate over the top, even throw in a few nuts on the side, and top it off with a cherry. Then grab a spoon, try it all, and stop eating the stuff that makes you sick.