By Angela Noel Lawson
February 25, 2018
I’m outside of my comfort zone. I don’t write about politics. My focus on this blog and in my life in general has always been on what brings people together. Politics, in general, seems to do the opposite. However, I read a book, Political Tribes, by Yale professor and bestselling author Amy Chua. And that book brought me to consider some ideas I needed to explore. The result is this essay: “Conceit on the Left? A Liberal’s Point of View” now on Splice Today.
The Woman in the Mirror
Far from seeking to point fingers at a particular group or ideology, my goal is to point only one finger–at myself. By exploring my own experiences, why I think as I do, and allowing my mind to be opened to the hypocrisy resident in my own brain, I hope to invite others to do the same.
Clearly, I don’t know if my words will evoke vitriolic responses from readers. I hope not. But given the nature of politics today, it’s certainly possible. My goal for myself, should this happen, is to remember that the point of my writing isn’t to convince or engage in argument. But rather to foster thoughtfulness.
I want conversation. I want to honor other voices inviting me to greater awareness.
“Conversation is the most important thing in a democracy.” Özlem Cekic from her Ted talk, “Why I have coffee with people who send me hate mail.”
What I don’t want is fear. Fear drives irrational anger. I hope that doesn’t happen here.
Early Reader Feedback
I wrote this essay over the course of several weeks. When I had a good draft I gave it to a few people from different political points of view to read. I wanted to check myself: Was my message clear? Did I inadvertently lay blame? Do the words and tone support the theme? Based on what they know of me, does my authentic voice come through? Because my conservative family is central to my story, I asked for their feedback.
First, my mom’s response, along with pointing out a few grammatical errors, was predictably thoughtful. “I’ve reread your essay several times,” she wrote in reply to my email requesting feedback, “and find it intriguing, enlightening, and true–for everyone. Equal treatment under the law is vital. Unfortunately it seems that the “law” is too often perverted by our prejudices.”
She goes on to say, “You’re so right about that stuff between our ears. There are those who will bristle at your reasoned presentation. But your message will encourage others who really want to curtail the dragon of panic and angst within to work on themselves rather than fighting.” I hope she’s right.
Next, my dad, smart, creative, and a life-long Republican, weighed in on the concept of “tribes” as described in Chua’s book. “I don’t care what tribes people belong to but I do care about your ideas,” he wrote. “Idea differences are worthy of open debate so we can judge which ideas will benefit the greatest number. I do see a danger if we vote as tribes without reference to philosophies. A voting bloc closed to persuasion regardless of the merit of arguments is dangerous.”
Moreover, he noted the word “conservative” could be substituted for “liberal” in almost every statement made by Geoffrey R. Stone in his article “Liberal Values.” (I mention Stone’s article in the essay.) This is a key insight in my opinion. Namely, when we really think about it, we’re much closer to agreement than not.
This notion reminds me of the fable about six blind men who encounter an elephant. In the parable, each man constructs in his own mind what the animal is based on the part of the the elephant he touched; trunk, leg, tail, etc. Of course, they fight about it. But the men eventually contrive a way to resolve the disagreement. In the end, the fable points out, we’re all describing a part of the same elephant. It’s truth, just not the whole truth. Thus, it’s best not to assume we know the whole story about anything or anyone based only on the part of the elephant we have direct experience with.
Bye Bye Comfort Zone
Though still tingling with a sense of vulnerability in sharing my essay with the world, these insights buoy me.
When I received word that my essay had been accepted and would be published, I took a deep breath. Here we go, I thought. Stay present. Listen. Learn.
In short, I hope you read the essay. I hope you’ll consider adding your comments either on the essay itself, or on this post about the essay. No matter what, I hope to invite you beyond your comfort zone. If I can do it, you can too.