Turns out neither of us has horns.
Ryan Evans and I had lunch Wednesday at Gramma Bonnie’s coffee shop in Amery, Wisconsin. Ryan’s one of the heartless right-wingers who climbed all over me for my tasteless liberal drivel when I wrote about taxes and the bridge collapse. On the blog we excoriated each other’s world views and souls. Across a table we liked one another and found stuff we agree on. And when we disagreed, the world didn’t end.
But if we can’t demonize one another, what fun is writing or reading a blog? What’s more entertaining and enlightening — a Bill Moyers interview or a Hannity & Colmes yelling match? Well, folks, fulminating might make me feel good for awhile, but for long-term mind and soul sustenance I’ve got to take Moyers. Not that Ryan and I rose to that intellectual and spiritual level at lunch, but I was moved by what I heard from Ryan about his experiences that have formed his views. And I like that he listened to me.
I learned some lessons about blogging, and about being a human:
- Spouting off dehumanizes. We’ll say things about another person on a blog that we’d never say to his or her face. Face to face, it’s hard to totally diss and dismiss another person.
- Closed-minded people are a drag. Ryan reads several lefty blogs, because he’s curious. He went on Daily Kos not long ago, saw everyone was agreeing on the truth as they saw it, and had the guts to give his dissenting views. He got hooted down for it, called names. Nice and welcoming, liberals, real open to discussion. Good luck ever changing anyone’s mind, or learning something new yourselves.
- Passion (sorry, Joe) and emotion can be heard and felt by another person, and can maybe even be attractive. Judgmentalism pushes people away. So writing with passion, not judgments, could be more effective at drawing in people who don’t agree with you.
- Both Ryan and I dislike being type-cast, tossed in a box labeled “lefty” or “righty,” which can happen easily based on our short blog posts. I criticize some things about America and can easily be dismissed as someone who whines all the time about how much America sucks. Ryan criticizes some things about government and can easily be dismissed as a “heartless greedy bastard,” as he said. But he’s not heartless, and I’m damned glad I was born in America. We have divergent views on many things, but agree, for example, that we have too many abortions in this country, that abortion is a lousy form of birth control, and that a woman should have the right to choose an abortion. So am I, a lefty, anti-abortion? Yes and no. Is Ryan, a righty, pro-abortion? The terms don’t fit, and until you actually talk with and listen to someone, you can’t know how he or she thinks — or why.
- Telling personal stories connects. Ryan served in the Navy, and military budget cuts weren’t just numbers to him. With trimmed budgets, he ate powdered eggs and slept in 1940s cinder-block barracks. With more military funding, he was served real eggs and slept in new barracks. Doesn’t change my view of the war in Iraq or Bush’s policies, but it makes me have more compassion for the soldiers and sailors on the front lines and the chow lines.
So what does this mean for me as a writer? I still want to shoot my mouth off, but spending a couple of hours with someone I disagree with but enjoyed getting to know may knock down some of my self-righteous certitude. My co-Rowdy Joe Loveland worries that a blog with too-civil discourse will be boring; he’d have made a great Roman when the lions were let loose in the Colosseum. I’m going to try to find a way to say something lively and thought-provoking that doesn’t close off the possibility that another view exists. Loveland, actually, is already good at this.
Thanks, Ryan. This was very cool, having a political viewpoint morph into a human being before my eyes. Let’s keep talking.
— Bruce Benidt