Thought for Thursday: The View from Where You Are

Watch this.  No, really; even if you’re saving up for the whole season before you watch the show, watch this scene.  I promise it won’t spoil anything for you:

This scene has been haunting me for about a week now, and I think that’s because it fits in perfectly with some of the really hard thinking I’ve been doing for a very long time.

When I first saw this – someone posted it on facebook, then I watched it again a few days later when I saw the episode that goes with it – I felt that Will was absolutely correct in how he conducted that interview.  More than anything else, I want for people to stop and think about what their words and actions and beliefs REALLY MEAN, and the fact that Will didn’t let the guy off with the pat, easy answers was satisfying to me.

Then something clicked.

Those of you who’ve been with me for a while know that I’ve been trying, desperately, to get underneath why it is that communication seems to have dissolved into a metaphorical – if not literal – shouting match.  Have we really forgotten how to talk to each other?  Are we really so polarized, so distinct and separate, that the ways in which we used to reach compromise and consensus are forever lost to us?  What happened to us, both individually and collectively, that rendered us effectively incapable of meeting one another on equal, respectful ground?  Why do we tend to view one another more as potential enemies than as compatriots and peers?

This went along with my agonized wrestling with the idea that someone could gleefully, enthusiastically, and wholeheartedly behave in ways that were patently counter to their own best interests.  I’ve been watching people – who I think should know better – forward ideas and policies that will ultimately limit their rights and freedoms and safety (to say nothing of choking off those things for others) and having a terrible time wrapping my thinking around what would cause them to do that.  I think that I loved this scene because Will asks that very question; how can you advocate for a man who genuinely thinks you’re something less than he is?

In order to further this thinking, I’ve been talking to a lot of smart people (I’m looking at you, Rick), reading, and thinking critically about things like the clip I just showed you.  What I’m coming to – that click I mentioned – is the realization that everyone does a sort of cataloging of their priorities (which is not a new idea for me) and that, further, everyone bases their decisions upon a complex equation of identity, belief, and expectation.

The reason Will was so upset with Sutton Wall is because he expected Wall to give certain ideals priority over others, and Will was frustrated because he couldn’t understand why that wasn’t happening.  Wall didn’t want to talk about the former Senator’s stance on issues of homosexuality because that wasn’t the reason Wall was supporting Santorum; he was in it for the former Senator’s stance on abortion.  For reasons that were clearly of vital importance to Wall,  he prioritized the abortion issue above issues of sexual preference and race sufficiently that he was able to live with his boss’s very publicly stated convictions against those things, even to the point where he’s willing to admit, at the end of the interview, that Santorum really doesn’t think he’s fit to be a teacher (ostensibly because of his sexuality).

I am absolutely guilty of this kind of values projection.  Because of my own limited scope and my inability to truly see things as others see them (we can work on coming close – compassion and empathy can be practiced – but none of us can yet fully escape our own heads), I will never be able to really understand what makes some people choose something that, to my (again, limited) vision seems entirely self-harming.

I suspect that a big part of my problem here is an utter failure to fully comprehend the value that many people put on their faith.  I recognize that as a shortcoming in myself – I really do have a terrible time with organized religion and the concept of believing something simply because someone tells you to believe it – but I think that this concept is at the heart of a lot of the trouble I have with the disconnect between what I see as people’s temporal reality and what I perceive as the really terrible choices they make.  For example, what makes the dirt poor vote for Republicans who will say, out loud and in public, that they want to limit or outright eliminate the programs upon which those poor people depend?  Perhaps it’s because of the Republican’s stated stance on marriage or abortion or any of a number of other issues that these people see as being of a higher (perhaps of a higher spiritual) significance.  It’s true that a number of these people would rather be poor and assured of what they see as their spiritual rightness than vote to make things better for themselves now and live with the knowledge that they enabled a social program they’ve been taught is wrong.

I have a lot more thinking to do about this, but I think I’ve made a good start.  I’m going to keep reading and talking and thinking, though, and I welcome anyone who wants to share in this journey.

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6 Comments

Filed under compassion and connection, critical thinking, frustrations, GLBTQ/Ally issues, Home and Family, ideas and opinions, learning, messages from the Universe, my oh-so-exciting life, politics, ruminating, social issues, television, this is NOT a drill, Worries and Anxieties, WTF?!

6 responses to “Thought for Thursday: The View from Where You Are

  1. The amount of suffering a person will gladly endure in order to achieve a hallowed place in the “afterlife” is a motivation I think a lot of educated liberals ignore. For them it’s a badge of honor and some of them believe that starving to death on earth will result in kingdoms and glory in the beyond.

  2. Rick, I miss that one EVERY TIME. Religion and religious considerations just never enter my thinking, and I forget that there are a LOT of people on the planet who would gladly martyr themselves – literally and figuratively – because they think that doing so will earn them some sort of reward in their ‘hereafter.’ It’s a concept I still haven’t managed to fully grasp, and I think it’s at the root of most of my struggling with these ideas.

  3. Brandon

    Hmm, lots of meaty stuff to comment on in your post, a bit hard to try to hit them all. 🙂 This is one of those instances where an actual back and forth conversation would make things much easier. In regards to the clip, I went from being annoyed to pleasantly surprised when Sutton pushed back and provided his response and rationale. I was nodding my head and giving credit to the Sorkin, et al for getting that right. But of course, he had to slip the bit in at the end instead of leaving it with Will being put back in his place. His remorse at the end of the clip seemed more driven by his concern that he had been a bully (most likely because Sutton is in the “victim” class of being homosexual and black) than with the fact that he had come to any similar conclusion that you have. But perhaps as the season goes on that will change, although I am skeptical.

    “I really do have a terrible time with organized religion and the concept of believing something simply because someone tells you to believe it –“ When you said this, did you generally have in mind organized religion as we see it America or were you thinking more broadly? I think that waaay oversimplifies the issue and implies that any believer has given no thought to the matter, but then you fully admit that you have a disconnect there, so I commend you for recognizing that and for trying to gain a better understanding. Speaking towards Christianity, while there are certainly people who haven’t given much critical thought to their beliefs, there are plenty who have wrestled, studied, questioned and come to their beliefs in a very well reasoned manner.

    The key bit you are missing about folks seemingly voting against their best interests is that your assumption is that these government programs help people, as opposed to actually keeping them mired in poverty and dependent on the government to be their provider. The success of something like food stamps, for instance, should be measured by how many people get out of the program because they no longer need it, rather than how many people are added to it and how much the program keeps growing. Of course much of this discussion is related to human nature and incentives (usually unintended) that many programs like this provide.

  4. Brandon

    While I was musing over your post, I recalled reading about a study not too long ago that was conducted that attempted to measure how well liberals and conservatives understand one another. I didn’t remember much about who/where the study was conducted but did manage to search and find some of what I had previously read. I think this addresses a lot of what you were sorting through in your post. The research was conducted by Johnathan Haidt. Here is how he described the research at this article link on The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    “In a study I conducted with colleagues Jesse Graham and Brian Nosek, we tested how well liberals and con­servatives could understand each other. We asked more than 2,000 American visitors to fill out the Moral Foundations Questionnaire. One-third of the time they were asked to fill it out normally, answering as themselves. One-third of the time they were asked to fill it out as they think a ‘typical liberal’ would respond. One-third of the time they were asked to fill it out as a ‘typical conservative’ would respond. This design allowed us to examine the stereotypes that each side held about the other. More important, it allowed us to assess how accurate they were by comparing people’s expectations about ‘typical’ partisans to the actual responses from partisans on the left and the right. Who was best able to pretend to be the other?”

  5. CV Rick

    Brandon, I suggest you read Haidt’s entire book, The Righteous Mind, before excepting the results of a single study.

  6. Brandon

    Rick, perhaps I will or perhaps I won’t. I think you’re reading more into the comment than was actually there.

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