Meeting in the Middle

Sunday, July 5, 2009

I have a friend who is very smart. Well-read, articulate, and she's into politics in a professional way. At dinner the other night with her and her boyfriend, she told a story about the importance of listening to the other side in an argument, something I'm admittedly no longer very good at. I was raised in a conservative household. I tried through all of high school to be a good conservative girl, but answers were never all that forthcoming about reasons and rationale. I never understood our unquestioned loyalty to Israel as a country, could never swallow that line that working class women had babies just to increase their check from the government. Had trouble flatly ignoring systemic inequalities in this society, and couldn't stomach why women should be so judged according their looks and never their merit.

Back to this friend. She told one of those pull-on-the-heart-strings stories about two men (of course they were men), one resolutely pro-choice and one resolutely anti-choice. She explained how these hypothetical men both arrived at their contrary positions through the experiences their own sisters had with deciding to have an abortion. The moral of the story was that we can learn to work together if we're willing to see the other side. Of course, that really only works if you have a story to begin with, and to have that story you must have a voice, have agency. The very structure of the fable, of course, demonstrates which characters are afforded this luxury, and it sure wasn't the sisters.

I spent my formative years listening to the other side. I tried to be anti-choice, I tried to convince myself that "those gays" wanted "special rights". I tried to believe that the system would take care of itself, rather than just taking care of those at the top of the system. It doesn't make sense. The problem is that the conservative viewpoint flat out doesn't make sense. And I can't validate what amounts to bigoted, retrograde opinions by entertaining them. Period. If you have an intelligent comment or point to make that's at odds with my beliefs, that's okay. As long as it's not based on the idea of second-class citizens, on oppression, on maintaining the power in the hands of the few. That side, I just can't tolerate.


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