April 5, 2010
When I was in college, a guy named Ed lived directly across the hall from me. Ed had a large Confederate flag hanging by his bed. He was a Civil War buff who was highly conservative on a number of issues. While he enjoyed reading, he didn’t enjoy fiction and saw little point to focusing on things that were made up, stories with no basis in reality. In almost every aspect, he and I never agreed.
And yet I consider him one of the best friends I ever had in college.
Eventually, I found that he did like SOME fiction, namely Invader Zim, and I’ve lost track of the times he and I would just chill out in his room with some beers, chips, and salsa and re-watched episodes of Firefly. But that’s a small part of the friendship.
Why do I bring this up?
Because, regardless of his political and philosophical leanings, he was a really good guy who’d given his beliefs a lot of thought. He knew why he believed what he did and he also knew that some of these views would be unpopular with others. Despite that, he stuck to his guns and was more than willing to debate the issue. Granted, I disagree with his conclusions, but he researched his facts and based them on what he knew up until that point. He’s a historian, a real academic through and through, and I respected him like I hope he respected my heathen liberal hide.
So, if a guy like that with no obligation to ever even pay attention to me could eventually become friend to an anarchic literature buff like me, what does it say about people like THIS that MUST work with people they don’t like?
A doctor in Florida put up a sign that said that if you were for Obama and health care reform, you could just go somewhere else. So… I can disagree with you politically, but God forbid I get a tumor and need your help?
I’ve gone on and on about people like Beck, Palin, pretty much everyone at Fox News, but the most pervasive problem isn’t the racism or the anti-intellectualism or even the ridiculously fierce patriotism. The biggest problem is that so many people, and I’m talking to the Right and the Left, just don’t want to talk to the other side.
I promise you, we don’t have cooties. I got many cootie shots back in elementary school.
I have another friend who is studying American history and has always identified himself as a conservative. However, upon reading and learning about certain aspects of American history, he’s said he’s changed his mind about many things and might lean more to the left of the spectrum.
It wasn’t some giant conversion. It was just a subtle shift. And there’s nothing wrong with changing your views. Scientists observe the world and constantly change the way they look at things. At one point not long ago, few believed that an asteroid could impact the Earth. It was a possibility, but now it’s widely accepted that such an event killed the dinosaurs. This isn’t to say that science has no grounding and will keep shifting without any control.
Time for some schoolin’, kids.
Science works to describe. A scientist observes the world and tries to find the patterns, the physical laws that govern the universe. Newton and his apocryphal apple gave us gravity. For a long time, Newtonian physics were the rules that governed all of creation. Then, about a hundred years ago, scientists realized that Newtonian physics didn’t cover everything. Very large masses (stars, galaxies, super-clusters) didn’t obey Newton’s laws of motion. Even worse, objects traveling at significant fractions of the speed of light, say high-energy particles, didn’t obey Newton’s laws, either.
Was Newton mistaken? Were we wrong to name those delicious little fig cookies after him?
Until a hundred years ago, we had never really had the chance to observe particles moving at such high speed. However, there they were now. Did we throw Newton out the window and watch him crack like an apple on the pavement?
Enter Albert Einstein. He developed relativity, which helped predict the motions and effects of high speed and massive objects. Then, as if to say “Frak the physicists,” reality threw a curve ball. As we peered into the world of the subatomic, we found that neither relativity nor Newtonian physics could predict the motion of electrons and the weird events that took place in that world.
That’s when scientists developed quantum mechanics, the science for people who want to understand reality while grasping at the concept of an eleven-dimensional universe. All you Half-Life fans can thank quantum mechanics for your game.
What does this impromptu science lesson mean? Well, we are all scientists… in a way. We see the world and formulate opinions based on the available data. If you grew up in a highly diverse city, say New York City, and you interacted with people from various backgrounds, you’d be a lot more open minded to new concepts and ideas. If, however, you grew up in a city with a homogenous population and little interaction with outside ideas, your point of view on the world would be similarly narrow.
That’s obvious, you say.
And yet… for some reason… we don’t apply that principle to everyday interactions. I know people on the left, hardcore liberals who fume at the right wing’s intolerance, who cringe at the thought of even being in the same room as a conservative. One of them even went around town once and took down Republican campaign banners for an upcoming election. At the same time, conservatives have their preconceptions about liberals. We’re fascists, some have been saying lately. We want your draughts to have abortions and we want to kill God.
How do you hope to convince someone if you go in already “knowing” what they’re all about? Granted, it’s good to have an idea of what to expect, but not to assume you know what the other person is thinking at al times. I learned things from Ed. I got a perspective of the Civil War I didn’t have before. I understand where he comes from, what led him to his conclusions, and he likewise knows where I come from for a lot of things.
To put it in grand, over-the-top religious terms, Christianity did not become one of the largest religions in the world by staying close to its centers of power and shunning the heathens. Eventually, the church had to send missionaries out. Sure, there were the occasional crusades and inquisitions, but more people converted, genuinely converted, because they met someone who altered their perceptions.
That’s what we need to do now. If I want to change someone’s mind, I won’t scare them into doing so. I will listen. I will present new information. I will try to give them the equivalent of seeing that apple fall. I will not assume their argument stems from lunacy. I may even make a new friend, and even if we disagree on the politics, I’ve found that most of us want the same thing.
Except for Glenn Beck. I am 99.999% sure he doesn’t have a brain but instead a Nerf football floating in thick syrup.
So, has there been someone you got to know but, based purely on politics, you’d never have thought to even talk to them. Share any stories below in the comments section.