I’ve been very lucky in my life to have had deep conversations with people from all walks of life. People with different opinions, from different cultures and religions. People I agree with. People I disagree with. I’ve learned a lot from most of these people, and I’ve gotten interested in things that I never would have thought much about until I was exposed to them from people who shared their passions and interests. I think it’s important for our democracy to have this wide diversity of voices and viewpoints, to offer different perspectives and to enlarge our understanding of the world.
When I was a kid, I used to have these conversations with my dad about politics and sports. I was a nerdy kid, always reading books and asking questions and thinking I knew more than I really did. This tended to annoy my mom, but my dad would patiently listen to me and he’d express his opinions about things that he knew about. My entire family were sports fans, and we all shared a love of the Boston Celtics. When my dad was young, he would sometimes go to watch NBA games, and he told me that he always thought that Bill Russell was a better player than Wilt Chamberlain. Both were great players, but Russell made his teammates better. For example, when Russell blocked a shot, he always tried to deflect the ball to a teammate to start a fast break for his team. When Chamberlain blocked a shot, he always blocked it into the stands. It looked dramatic, but the other team still had the ball and thus had another chance to score a basket. My siblings and I grew up during the Larry Bird era, and I loved hearing my dad’s stories about Russell, Cousy, Sam White and Red Auerbach. We were very happy in recent years when the Celtics were revived with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo.
My dad also tolerated my talking about politics. During high school, I really hated Ronald Reagan’s policies. My dad was an independent, but supported Reagan during his 8 years. We would sit around the kitchen and debate about Reagan’s tax cuts, his policies in Latin America, South Africa and Asia, and his Star Wars program. I liked Reagan as a person, as Reagan was an affable person who had genial relationships with Democrats like Tip O’ Neill. But I thought his policies were insensitive to the poor, coddled dictators, and pushed the arms race to dangerous levels. My dad would listen to me patiently, then carefully explain what he believed. In all this, my dad taught me an important lesson. He taught me to always show respect for people if they disagree with me. I can still disagree with them, but I should always try to understand things from their perspective. My father’s lesson has always stuck with me.
As I entered my young adult years, I would find these interesting political conversations in the most unexpected places. I used to play basketball all the time during the weekends, and often after a game, I would talk politics with the guys. We would often disagree, but after the talks, someone would buy some ice cream from the ice cream vendor because he enjoyed the conversations.
During the first few years at an evangelical church I’d hang out until late at night talking with a few Christians after one of their Friday night social gatherings. Often, in a smaller group, they’d express opinions that they would never tell in a larger group of church people. We’d often continue our talks as we drop by a coffee shop or a Chinese restaurant that stayed open late.
My close friends the Liebermans would be the source of some of the best conversations. We would frequently watch an old movie at the Stanford Theater, a Palo Alto theater that specialized in movies made before 1960. After the movie, we’d eat ice cream and talk about books, politics, movies and music. They told me about the travels they had across America, and how they appreciated this country after seeing the different states. They told me about the Presidents that they’ve lived through, from Roosevelt to today. And they’d talk about seeing jazz greats like Louie Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington. I ate up everything that they told me.
In the past few years, I’ve tried to get more involved in protests and vigils. When I would participate, I’d try to take photos and talk to the people who participated in the protests. I’d ask why they were there, or I’d ask what was the meaning of the particular sign that they were holding. These people were always happy to share of their experiences, and I’d often learn about things that I didn’t know before. Some people talked like policy wonks, talking about the details of a particular bill or the causes of some particular injustice. Some people would just talk about how their lives have been adversely affected by a lack of affordable health insurance, for instance, or from the threat of deportation.
One of the sad things that I miss is that I no longer have many meaningful conversations with conservatives. During the 1980s to the mid 1990s, I used to have quite a few conservative friends whom I could have these conversations where we could talk about things we disagree about and still respect each other.
It seems like people are a lot less tolerant nowadays of differences of opinion. I don’t know how many times in recent years have I been shouted at or lectured at because I dared to have a different opinion. Instead of dialogues where two people exchange views and gain a deeper appreciation of the other side, many of my recent interactions with conservatives have been like two monologues going past each other, with no one listening to the other.
When I hear someone talks in absolutes, I know this is a conversation that I won’t enjoy. It could be “All Democrats are unAmerican” or “All poor people are lazy” or even “All rich people are greedy”, I would begin to tune them out. Most of the poor that I know work hard, but need help. I know a few rich people who volunteer to help the poor. Every Democrat that I know loves our country deeply.
Both sides of the political spectrum are guilty of this, but the conservative Republicans have taken this to an extreme. Over the past decade, conservatives have been successful in purging the GOP of many of the moderate Republicans from Congress, and I think this has had a really bad effect on our political discourse. As a liberal Democrat, I get annoyed at times at the Blue Dog Democrats, but I also think it’s good to have moderates in the Democratic Party. Most people that I know aren’t uniformly liberal or uniformly conservative, but are liberal in some areas and conservative in others. If there are only going to be two political parties in this country with a viable chance of attaining political power, it’s important for both parties to reflect some of this diversity of views.
I’ve been lucky thoughout my life in talking to many different people, and I’ve been exposed to many different cultures and religious and political viewpoints. I don’t think I’m alone in this. I think most Americans have had similar experiences as I, as this country is a great melting pot of immigrants. I found a quote from a book that encapsulates what I’m trying to express in my blog. Azar Nafisi wrote in her book Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books something about Jane Austen that I think also applies to the diversity of voices that we are blessed to have in the U.S. It also touches upon the dangers of intolerance to differences of opinion. Nafisi wrote:
One of the most wonderful things about Pride and Prejudice is the variety of voices it embodies. There are so many different forms of dialogue: between several people, between two people, internal dialogue and dialogue through letters. All tensions are created and resolved through dialogue. Austen’s ability to create such multivocality, such diverse voices and intonationin relation and in confrontation within a cohesive structure, is one of the best examples of the democratic aspect of the novel. In Austen’s novels, there are spaces for oppostions that do not need to eliminate each other in order to exist. There is also space- not just space but a necessity- for self-reflection and self-criticism. Such reflection is the cause of change. We needed no message, no outright call for plurality, to prove out point. All we needed was to read and appreciate the cacophony of voices to understand its democratic imperative. This was where Austen’s danger lay.
It is not accidental that the most unsympathetic characters in Austen’s novels are those who are incapable of genuine dialogue with others. They rant. They lecture. They scold. This incapacity for true dialogue implies an incapacity for tolerance, self-reflection and empathy.
If you enjoy this cartoon, take a look at these links for more of my political cartoons at Everyday Citizen. You could also join my Jasper the Cat facebook page.
Jasper and the Cop
The Parents Visit the Occupation
Cartoons About Occupy Wall Street
Jasper and the Moderate Republican
Obama and the Republicans
Jasper And the Homeless Veteran
Jasper Celebrates the 4th of July
Jasper Meets Howard Zinn
Jasper and the Nature Poem
Government and the Market Economy
Jasper Joins Two Protests
Bob the Nerd Vampire
Jasper Debates War
Jasper Finds His Way Home
Jasper Escapes the Detention Center
Jasper At A Detention Center
Jasper Meets a Poet
Jasper Tackles Health Care
Jasper Protests the War
Jasper and the Economy
Jasper Sings a Protest Song
The Road To Health Care Reform Cartoon
A Cartoon about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
A Cartoon about My Experience in an Evangelical Church
A Cartoon about Political Debate
A Cartoon On Gay Marriage