Tag Archives: politics

The Quiz

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

I have a cousin who stands firmly on the other side of the political divide from the one I occupy.  Recently she sent me a quiz she had designed to demonstrate the facts about climate, facts that were drawn from reputable sources but that were clearly chosen to demonstrate that our concern about human-caused climate change is misplaced.

What interested me weren’t the facts she offered, but the power of my emotional response to her quiz.

The conversation that followed prompted me to search out an interview I remembered Krista Tippett doing with Daniel Kahneman, the psychologist/economist who won a Nobel Prize for his work demonstrating that we are not always logical and rational in our economic lives.

Here is one of the things he said in the interview:

When I ask you about something that you believe in — whether you believe or don’t believe in climate change or whether you believe in some political position or other — as soon as I raise the question why, you have answers. Reasons come to your mind. But the reasons may have very little to do with the real causes of your beliefs. And we take the reasons that people give for their actions and beliefs and our own reasons for our actions and beliefs much too seriously.

And that’s the topic that I find compelling, not what do I or my cousin believe, about politics, about religion, about the state of our world, about anything at all, but why each of us chooses to believe what we do.  What is the emotional foundation for my gut-clench in response to my cousin’s quiz?

When I saw what she had sent, I wanted to turn away.  I know my cousin, I knew where the facts she intended to reveal meant to take me, and I knew I wasn’t going to go there.  I also know how easily facts—I have a hard time not putting quotes around the word—can be shaped to prove opposing points.

It’s an interesting dilemma because I love my cousin, and the different ground we stand on doesn’t diminish that love in the smallest way.  But I definitely did not want to engage in measuring her reality against mine.

She has explained to me how she came to be a conservative, that as a young social worker in Chicago she saw the government tear down tenements that had been vital communities and build concrete sewers to house people instead.  Communities of color were destroyed because of the “superior” knowledge of white bureaucrats.

And while I didn’t witness that destruction as closely as she did, I was aware of it, too, and saw it as a serious mistake, however well intentioned.  Knowing it was a mistake, though, did not prompt me to rethink my view of government as it did her.

Why am I willing to witness such governmental blunders and still continue to vote for people I hope will provide government-driven solutions for complex societal needs?

Partly, of course, on a rational level, because I can also point to the great successes of government programs from GI loans to Medicare to Social Security.  But there is another reason that is even more powerful.  And more basic.

My father emerged from the Great Depression of the 1930’s seriously wounded, as so many did, and surviving that terrible time only convinced him of the responsibility of government toward its citizens.  It was a topic he brought up often at the kitchen table.

I resisted my dad in many ways, but still I listened.  His political views came to be part of my very bones.

On the other hand, my brother, who grew up listening to the same lectures at the same table, is a conservative.  I can only assume his views grew from his need to stand apart from that complex and often infuriating man, something that, as a daughter, I could do more easily in other ways.

If emotions do rule—and I’m convinced they do—do we have any hope of reaching across the chasm that divides our country and our world?

I wonder if the answer doesn’t lie less in trading facts than in listening deeply to the feelings of those who see the world differently, asking why they believe what they do, asking what lies beneath that choice.  Asking the question of ourselves, too.

And at the beginning of any conversation, setting aside the assumption that we, alone, are in possession of the truth.

I so wish we could embrace both sides, not so much that we could compromise as that we could recognize that our different views may each hold a fundamental truth.  At the very least, a truth of the heart.

Hate Enshrined

In this new and sometimes bewildering world of blogging, bloggers are advised to stake out a territory. Define who you are, what your topic is, where you have credibility, what will draw your audience to your words and stay there.

That hasn’t been difficult for me. I write for children and young adults. For years I have also taught those who want to write for children and young adults. Writing my own books and teaching developing writers forms the core of my experience and thus the lens through which I approach my blog. But occasionally when I sit down to tackle the next blog, I find myself drawn to a topic that isn’t about a recent book or about craft or even about children, and then I pause, not sure what to do. I’m in just such a pause today.

I live in Minnesota, have lived here for nearly forty years. Minnesota has been a good home for me.  I love having four dramatically changing seasons. I love the wilderness that has been so carefully preserved, especially in the far north of the state. I feel both supported in my own work and challenged by the commitment to the arts that exists here. And there was a time when I could have said that I loved the feisty politics in Minnesota that have kept a continual tug-of-war going between those of different views.

Vote No Amti-Marriage AmendmentMinnesota politics are harder to love these days. And with the upcoming election, I find my admiration for my state stretched pretty thin. We have an amendment on the ballet to define marriage as being between one man and one woman, in other words to write into our state constitution a prohibition against same-sex marriage. Apart from the serious question of whether such a matter should be defined by the constitution at all, apart from the fact that millions of dollars are being spent in an attempt to pass/defeat this amendment that are desperately needed in other pockets, even apart from the fact that same-sex marriage is already outlawed in our state so that the amendment is entirely redundant, the whole shibboleth is both maddening and impossible to ignore.

I am a children’s writer. That is the face I bring to the world. But I am also a lesbian in a committed relationship. In the early 90s I edited and contributed to a collection of young-adult short stories on gay and lesbian themes called Am I Blue? Coming Out from the Silence.  I used that book to come out professionally, despite solemn warnings from editors that such an acknowledgement could end my career. But I was acutely aware that young people were dying—quite literally—because of lack of support and information about their sexuality, so how could I make any other choice? I also knew that by being open about my own life I could demonstrate that being lesbian or gay doesn’t stand in the way of being an ethical, productive, normal human being. 

Am I Blue? made its way into the world and did its good work, and to this day, I am more proud of that book than I am of any other that has passed through my hands and my heart.

But here I am facing a public question concerning sexuality again, and what is my responsibility now? Thousands of children in Minnesota have gay or lesbian parents who are forbidden to marry. Many more thousands are discovering or will discover that they are themselves lesbian or gay and will find themselves looking out at a landscape of laws designed to impede their lives. Something more than stories is needed this time. 

I have attended church services and rallies where we are urged to go out and knock on doors to defeat this restriction on same-sex marriage, to bring up the topic with grocery store cashiers, to make phone calls. But I am not a knocker on doors, a converser with strange cashiers. And while I’m glad to receive phone calls, I don’t like making them even to people I know. (My daughter complains that I never call, though I e-mail often.)

I am a writer. And a blogger. Only that. And so I bring my thoughts to this page.

We should on every level of society and government be supporting commitment, not standing in the way of it. We should be nurturing love, not shaming it. 

In this world of climate chaos, of war, of sexual slavery and rape, of starving children, of homelessness, the issue of same-sex marriage shouldn’t have to be the center of anyone’s attention. There is so much more we need to be doing. But, nonetheless, in Minnesota we have a very public choice to make. 

Do we want to enshrine hate in our constitution?

For whatever it’s worth, my small voice says NO!