Us vs Them

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.  F. Scott Fitzgerald

A recent email we received got us thinking about how different people view the same issue.  Here is the email in question.

A woman in a hot air balloon realized she was lost. She lowered her altitude and spotted a man in a boat below. She shouted to him, "Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don't know where I am." 
The man consulted his portable GPS and replied, "You're in a hot air balloon, approximately 30 feet above ground elevation of 2,346 feet above sea level. You are at 31 degrees, 14.97 minutes north latitude and 100 degrees, 49.09 minutes west longitude.
She rolled her eyes and said, "You must be a Republican.
"I am," replied the man. "How did you know?"
"Well," answered the balloonist, "everything you told me is technically correct. But I have no idea what to do with your information, and I'm still lost. Frankly, you've not been much help to me."
The man smiled and responded, "You must be an Obama-Democrat."
"I am," replied the balloonist. "How did you know?"
"Well," said the man, "you don't know where you are -- or where you are going. You've risen to where you are, due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise you have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your problem. You're in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but somehow, now it's my fault."

Which person do you identify with more?  While this email was mean to be satirical, as with any satire it brings up some interesting points.  As Americans, we often feel more comfortable identifying with the D or the R.  We do this mostly because we feel that one group, or another seems to fit our main issue (some people even have two issues) and we have no idea how the other side could possibly be opposed to our issue.

Around this office, we tend to identify more closely with one party versus another, but don't be fooled we are neither a D nor an R.  How could this be?  It is quite simple.  We recognize that we have more in common with our fellow Americans than we have differences.  We may have some heated exchanges with the opposite opinion and certainly they with us.  This doesn't mean that we don't value everyone equally.  

Equality is just that.  The US Constitution protects everyone's right to free speech.  Thankfully it does not require us to listen to someone exercising their First Amendment rights.  That's right, just because you are saying it doesn't mean we have to listen to it.  This applies to the people and ideas you like as well as the ones you don't.  We are morally opposed to many facets of our society that are considered "mainstream" or accepted.  This doesn't mean someone can't hold that belief.  We will work to change that opinion and any associated laws to correct what we see as a wrong, but they still have the right to believe what they want.

Blaming others for our failings does nothing to promote harmony and equality.  It reduces the pursuit of happiness that Thomas Jefferson wrote about in the Declaration of Independence way back in 1776.  We don't believe that doing whatever makes you feel good is appropriate for society since what makes you happy may make someone else very sad (ie legalization of controlled substances and drugs).  Making laws that restrict an action by an individual that restricts that individuals happiness must show that by restricting that action it is in the best interest of the individual and society and in general.

An example would be nice at this point.  In our local area, it is legal to burn non-toxic items with a 2 hour notice to the local fire police.  We are required to have an adult present and the fire must remain under that adult's control at all times (water hose, rake, etc).  Once the fire is completely out, we must then call the local fire police to notify them that the fire is now out.  This protects the property owner and the community from sending fire trucks to put out a leaf fire.  This reduces the costs for everyone and eliminates unnecessary and incorrect fire calls.  The service works very well, and while it provides some restrictions, we are not unduly inconvenienced, and there is a purpose behind the restrictions that were clearly explained.

Years ago we owned property a few miles away and unfortunately in a different county.  This county and the local leaders had decided that in the spirit of going green, they would no longer allow any type of burning within 500 yards of any structure.  This was a very suburban area, and there existed very few properties with structures (theirs or their neighbors) more than 500 yards from anything else.  Effectively the law restricted the burning of anything on any property.  No grills, no fire pits, no leaf burning, no brush burning - nothing.  Think about that for a minute.  By restricting the burning of anything, the local leaders had to contract with a national garbage collection service to pick-up more trash (more heavy duty trucks spewing out more diesel fumes).  In addition, all of the leaves and brush needed to be collected by locally maintained heavy duty trucks also spewing diesel fumes.  In the end the idea of going green resulted in significantly higher pollution levels as measured by the EPA than surrounding areas.  A "good" idea gone wrong to be sure.

The next time you hear a talking head spew out their 30 second sound bite, close your eyes and try to decide which party they might belong to.  IF you can't decide, open your eyes and listen.  Maybe this individual has something of value to say.  A rational person doesn't play the middle to garner the highest public opinion on a topic.  A rational person backs up their beliefs with facts and genuine passion.  Don't be afraid to form an opinion on a topic and then try to poke holes in your own opinion.  If you can't find any major flaws it might be time to share it with others.  

If you objectively review your opinion and it leaks like a sieve, maybe that is something you should keep to yourself.  Sharing your thoughts can be valuable to others, but it doesn't mean they will always be receptive.  We are all the same on the inside.  Keep that in mind before you condemn another person's thoughts and beliefs.  Disagreeing on a topic and rationally discussing it can lead both parties to a better understanding of their differences and might actually lead to a better idea.  Maybe our politicians should think about that when they stand in front of a microphone.  Just because they are talking doesn't mean you have to listen.