A Different Point of View
Looking at the other side
Admittedly it was the prospect of moving to Washington D. C. that charged my enthusiasm, rather than the issues of the day. I lay awake many a night envisioning the outfit I would wear on inauguration day. My father lost the election, as did Dewey. But Daddy implanted within me his firm conviction that good government emerged when people had a choice, and only through the give and take of open, public discourse can the voice of every individual be heard. When I was in high school he insisted that I take debate to reinforce my understanding that there were two (or more) sides to any issue.
Years later and living below the Mason Dixon Line, I again worked for that same principle when my husband, a life-long Democrat who had been active in a number of political campaigns, switched parties to become a candidate for the State Legislature on the first full Republican ticket offered in Memphis since Reconstruction. He truly believed that good government depends on giving people a choice. In the early 1960’s Tennessee was a “one party” state. State and local elections were won in the primary. We campaigned hard. We lost.
But partisan politics is not the only arena where I have engaged in open controversy. It has happened many times—at church, on school boards, in civic organizations, in neighborhood associations, even in the family.
To express our opinions, to stand up for what we believe, to act upon what we feel is a fundamental right and in a large sense a necessary part of being fully human. What a person thinks and feels matters. But more important than freedom of expression is the realization that our view is always limited. As hard as we try we can never achieve a monopoly on Truth. The Truth beyond our understanding is that we share the same Creator with that fellow with whom we might passionately disagree. This means that when there is disagreement and blood begins to boil, although it is extremely hard we must always respect the living spirit within our opponent. This is when we turn to God for help.
Depending on the mood of the country during election years, I sometimes wonder if I am going to be able to last until November. I dread the prospect of continually confronting vindictive diatribes every time I turn on the television or open a newspaper. Although I know that charges of lies, manipulations, scurrilous scandal, and ulterior motives have been a part of elections since our country’s inception, my soul aches with the knowledge that such acrimony sullies the heart of who we are. I am torn. I find myself wanting to avoid political discussions, yet I know the only way to make a half-way intelligent decision is to try to be informed.
Recently at a dinner party among old friends, I silently said a prayer as conversation turned to politics. Backs stiffened and lips grew tight as voices began to rise. Thank God, the roots of friendship reached deep and some honest exchange happened. No opinions changed, but a small potential for new understanding cracked open. How essential it is that we work to hold such openings as portals through which we can listen, beyond the vitriolic rhetoric. To listen and hear the personhood of the other beyond their words is our challenge. To realize that despite our differences, we all are deeply connected through and within God can help us experience a new dimension of the living spirit.
Copyright ©2004 Sally Thomason