My post, “Maybe We Need Taxes — A Bridge Too Far,” incited a lot of comment and a lot of emotions, in readers and in me.
What’s most striking about all of this is the anger — in my post and in many responses. And most heartening were the rare moments when a few of us left the anger behind and actually listened to one another.
So the communications lesson here, if I can learn it (again and again), might be — don’t say things in a way that only those who agree with you can hear. If I want to preach beyond the choir, I gotta stop preaching. And of course it’s a balancing act — I want to have the courage to say things that others won’t like. To say things that are challenging and thought-provoking without being cheap shots for effect is probably the answer. The irony is that my recent post, “Have You Forgotten?”, was about seeing things from another person’s point of view. Hard to do.
So, Ryan Evans, Arclightzero, if you’re still reading our blog — wanna have lunch? We’d disagree and maybe anger each other, but it might be fun. To get to know someone who sees the world quite differently. And to find the places where we see things a bit the same. And to touch that place again where we listened.
I’ve questioned over the last two days whether it was right to post my views so quickly, a few hours after the I-35W bridge collapsed into the Mississippi. Some of our regular readers also said it was too soon to inject politics into the tragedy, that we should take time to grieve and feel what happened, and give some space to the victims and their families. This blogging thing is intoxicating — you can say your say, hit the “publish” button, and get a rush. I felt deeply that the event illustrated a larger problem, and felt the need to raise the issue. And I think it was OK, actually, to go to the larger context while the horror was still in the air. The horror could prompt us to think.
I said the bridge collapse may be an illustration of too many years of “no new taxes,” not collecting or spending enough money to maintain a state and a country that work. I got a ton of criticism, in two themes: that I was heartless and lacking in human decency to use this calamity to push my political view, especially while bodies were still in the river; and on the political view itself, that it was typical liberal tripe, thinking that big government and more taxes are the answer to everything.
I admit I was stung by the criticism that I was heartless, and depressed by the vitriol in the criticism. I liked that people where chiming in on our blog with rowdily dissenting views, though, and I really liked reading much of what the critics said — much of it was clever, and a great deal of it was passionate.
The most touching part of all this was when my wife, Lisa DJ on the blog, asked the conservatives what they were so angry about. One poster, Arclightzero, responded to her in much calmer language, and some civil discourse actually happened. I responded on Arclightzero’s blog to some of the criticism, and he and I said some calm and humane things to one another. I felt a connection then with Ryan Evans (in later posts he, Arclightzero, signed his name, and that helped). I actually read and thought carefully about his and other critics’ posts and positions; and Ryan may have done the same — he certainly heard me when I talked about the tone, the anger and hate, of the posts. And both of our tones changed.
We stood down the anger, each of us, and, for a few minutes, heard one another. And it was far more satisfying than when we were just blasting our viewpoints at one another.
Ryan’s blog is “A [Sometimes] Logical View of the Illogical.” I’ve been reading it these past two days. I don’t like a lot of it, don’t agree with much of it, but I kind of like reading it.
A couple conservative sites along with Arclightzero’s picked up what I wrote, and roundly criticized it. There were some great points made — the underlying infrastructure problem may not be not enough tax money for maintenance, but just bad management of the bridges and the available money. Maybe not enough inspections, maybe bad decisions. Many people said the money spent on mass transit should instead be spent on maintaining roads and bridges. I disagree, and believe mass transit is essential to a fair society that I believe should be using less energy, but that’s just my view. I think I’m right, but the blogger critics think I’m dead wrong.
There was some real heat on these sites. One person said I should be beaten to a bloody pulp. Another said people like me should be taken to an underground bunker and have the crap scared out of us with a mock interrogation. Yikes. But, I’ve said some pretty creepy things about Richard Nixon in my day, for example — “he should be ground up and fed to dogs” was one I used, no doubt, too often.
Where’s the anger come from, Lisa DJ asked Ryan Evans. And I’ll ask myself where mine comes from. I want things to work in this country, and the world. I want everyone to have a fair chance. I’m angry at wealthy people and companies that dodge taxes. Yes there’s waste, and money isn’t always the answer, but we should all pay our fair share for the common good. Katrina hammered me — it showed how many people we’re leaving behind. I see so many things going wrong. But in my anger I have to realize that I don’t always have the right ideas on how to help create a fair-chance country.
In a book called “Difficult Conservations“, smart people from the Harvard Negotiating Project talk about how each person has a story — on how taxes should be raised and spent, for example, or on why there’s conflict in a marriage or at work. And if all I do is keep telling my story and loudly trying to convince the other person that I’m right, I don’t have much of a chance. But if I listen to the other person’s story — like mine, neither right nor wrong but just how he or she sees things — there might be a chance we can find some common ground.