Thursday, December 13, 2012

Liberals and Conservatives Part 2 (Imaginary Dialogue with Joe Scarborough)

Exhorting both liberals and conservatives to fully "see" their colleagues opposite is much easier to write than to execute such an encounter.
There are so many obstacles to a full encounter, and let's remember it was Martin Buber, the giant Jewish scholar and theologian who, in "I and Thou" posited the notion that in the intersect where "you and I" meet fully, vulnerable, exposed, risking all, yet nevertheless fully participating in the encounter, that at that moment and in that space, G-- is present. And while relatively profound encounters can and often do occur between like-minded, and friendly colleagues, it takes considerably more courage, stamina, risk and spiritual strength to meet those with whom we do not agree or with whom we do not see "eye to eye".
Such moments are usually never forgotten, able to recalled in their intimate detail months if not years later, as some kind of epiphany. When a father witnesses the birth of his son or daughter, amid the pain and distress of the mother, there is an encounter of several "I's and Thou's" with life-changing potential.
At the moment when life leaves our body, mind and spirit, for those accompanying the person, there is a moment of full encounter with the great mystery, just as in birth.
Potentially, any phone call, or good-bye could turn out to be life-changing in its transformative energy, especially if it turns out to be a final one between two people.
There are encounters which float through our individual memories, when, with someone significant we said something we would love to retract, or they said something they wish they could withdraw, or, conversely, one person, or perhaps even both, said something that made such a huge difference, its ripples continue to dance across the pond of our life.
However, such encounters, if we are to begin the process of even considering "seeing" another person with a very different and, in our view, quite suspect world view, are too large, too momentous and therefore too risky to contemplate for our purposes.
I want to say to people like Joe Scarborough, former Republican Congressman from Florida in the 1990's, current co-host of Morning Joe on MSNBC, avowed and committed fiscal conservative, "But Joe, this struggle in the U.S. government and economy is not primarily about dollars, but about people. And people are not defined by their dollars, their access to dollars, their stash of dollars, nor their pursuit of those dollars. And the tax rate, as a part of that scorecard, is less important than what those people believe, what those people feel, yes feel, about the current state of their neighbourhood, their town or city, their state and their country. And those feelings are not exclusively, nor even primarily generated by the number of dollars they have, or have to pay to Uncle Sam. What matters to those people is whether they are part of something in which they have trust, confidence and hope. And those qualities, in their perception too are not defined nor determined by the scale of dollars in their savings, investment, chequing or off-shore accounts. They want to know that they are being told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and they want to know that, if they tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, they will get a fair hearing.
And, from at least the last decade of war, "truth has been the first and most lasting and final casualty".
And I can hear Joe Scarborough pushing back, "Yes, but our country is nearly bankrupt, and there seems to be no political will to rein in spending on the part of the White House, even if the Speaker caves on tax increases for the very wealthy.
And we are past blaming any single party for the debt and deficit, but it will take an epic effort from both parties, and their leadership, 'to right this ship'."
To which I want to respond, "Joe, did you hear my premise! The people are not defined by their incomes, nor is the country defined by its balance sheet. We have commodified our lives, our country's life, our corporations, our churches, our universities and even our motives for supporting primary and secondary education. We believe, wrongly, that we are all living to serve the GNP, the Dow, the NASDAQ, the Standard and Poors Bond Ratings, just as we believe that the professional sports leagues and their owners and players worship at the altar of winning, and of ticket sales based on ratings, as is the case in the television industry. Do you think I watch/listen to your show to jack up the ratings so you will get a bigger pay cheque? Do you think I believe that whatever you say to your audience is dedicated to growing ratings? Do you think that each adolescent boy tries out for the football and basketball team just because he wants to play in the NFL or the NBA? No, Joe, he tries out because he wants to prove himself, to challenge himself, to find another piece of his life-puzzle and path, and to provide some energy, and life and excitement to what could otherwise be a somewhat dull and dreary decade-plus of classroom time. Let's for a few moments, agree that human beings are not either the product of, nor the generators of money!
They need some money for their basic necessities, and for some R and R and for some saving and investment. Nevertheless, the pursuit of and the acquisition of money is not, never has been, and never will be the purpose of a human life.
And the sooner we can agree on that premise, the sooner we will more likely agree that our choices need to have a different framing, when we negotiate the debt and deficit cutting measures.

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