mercredi, octobre 13, 2004

From Swing to Swing or the Compulsion Toward Dialogue

My daughter has a swing set in the backyard and loves to pass the hours swinging. I think it is part of a longing for flight. It is bliss to be with her during these times of happiness. One habit she has is that she likes to get off one swing and go to another swing. It never made sense to me until yesterday.

Greetings from Columbus, Ohio.

Yesterday, I left on a business trip with two colleagues that I hold in high regard. One is a democrat from a republican home (would we call her a flip-flopper?), and the other is a republican from a republican home. We left one swing state, Minnesota. For another swing state, Ohio.

To save money for the mothership (we all work for a Fortune 500), we flew to Dayton and drove from there to our meetings in Columbus. As we worked our way east on highway 70, the landscape was reminiscent of my home state, Kansas. It also called to mind Minnesota and Nebraska and Iowa - all the rural settings of America - but especially the heartland. The landscape was dotted with campaign signs - most of them for Bush and Cheney (I think they will win the rural vote big), but the bumper stickers favored Kerry and Edwards, and as we got closer to Columbus, the landscape changed.

It was an experience that I will remember for a long time, sitting next to a republican driving within a swing state, seeing all those signs and wanting to engage in dialogue. Instead, we honored the corporate tradition and stayed quiet (the republican reports in through a team for which I am tangentially responsible - so I had to be very careful).

Dialogue. There are so many opportunities for dialogue. This year, more than most, dialogue is so compelling. It's funny when you recall that four years ago, so many people struggled to see meaningful differences between Republicans and Democrats, and now, the contrasts may never have been sharper.

Along those lines, my wife and I did not put a yard sign up this year. We just moved to our neighborhood in May, and we are just getting to know people. We thought it best to take the year off. Also, my wife is not the yard sign type. I think most folks could guess where we come down, and this year, yard signs seem somewhat territorial (if not divisive - especially the giant ones). For example, a few houses down, there is a woman whose company we enjoy quite a lot in the brief exchanges that happen as she walks her dog and as we rake our leaves. Let's call her Mary. She is a school teacher, and she is very close friends with our next door neighbors - a lesbian couple (you couldn't ask for better neighbors either - they often bring us tomatoes and strawberries). Let's call them Linda and Cindy. Well, Mary posted a Bush Cheney sign in her yard, and my reaction surprised me. I found myself thinking "gee, you think you know a person." I found myself trying to square my understanding of her with my understanding of the Bush Cheney administration. I wondered how she can be close friends with Linda and Cindy and support and adminstration that seeks to treat them as second class citizens and to deny their sincere (and long-standing) love for each other by the force of the constitution. I wondered how Linda and Cindy felt about the sign.

Eventually, I reached two conclusions. First, of course, there are many, many wonderful and sincere people who, after much thought and based on their history, have reached conclusions different from my own. Mary is one of them of course, and I have many wonderful republican friends. I believe in my heart that they are wrong, and I assume that they believe in their hearts that I am wrong too (they're wrong about that). I try to understand positions that differ from my own, and I hope to have a friendly conversation with Mary the next time I see her. Putting the sign up is an invitation for dialogue, right? Dialogue. Dialogue.

The second is that she must be a single issue voter! I mean come on! She's a school teacher (think un-funded mandate, think decreased federal aid to states and resulting impact to the schools, think about the devastating impact on curriculum of initiatives like No Child Left Behind and of all the testing, think about the republican governor in MN who has hit the schools very, very hard) which means she's probably in a union (solidarity to my brothers and sisters in unions and with all the workers of the world - the people, united, will never be defeated). Also, she is very close with Linda and Cindy. She lives in a democratic state and in a democratic neighborhood (and she has for decades). She lives near a lake and has an obligation as an environmental steward. I could go on and on.

For the record, I intend my second conclusion to be light-hearted (it kinda contradicts the first, no?).

If I get a chance for dialogue with Mary, I will report about it here. Dialogue is compelling and (now more than ever) essential. Dialogue not pointed toward changing view points, but pointed instead toward understanding them. Respectful and sincere dialogue.