What was behind the controversy?

 So the President gave a little pep talk to our school children and people pitched a hissy fit over it. I read the speech on the White house web site. Sounded encouraging: take responsibility for your own education and stay in school. I read it, squinted my eyes in case I had missed the fine print, and still didn’t see anything objectionable in it. Sure, the original essay assignment was awkwardly worded but the level of offensiveness depended on your interpretation. (After all, supporting the President could mean anything from all out support of every word in his bills, or simply staying in school.) Nothing worth the protests of some of Obama’s detractors.

 I got the impression that the controversy was more over the speaker than the speech, an “us versus them” mentality that does nothing productive for humanity.

 It’s too easy to look at a person who disagrees with me and demonize them. (Does this make me an angel, someone who battles The Enemy like Harry Potter battles what’s-his-face?) It seems to be a popular political strategy, particularly around election time, before any big bills gets passed, etc. Pretty much all of the time, really, except when it’s those five nanoseconds after the losing candidate concedes the election and everyone in Washington pretends they’re going to work together this time. Really. Read our lips: We’re going to work together!

 Sometimes it’s not possible to work together. Agreeing to disagree doesn’t always cut it. Truth is worth fighting for. But badmouthing people who oppose the truth isn’t going to do any good. Yelling won’t do any good. These things move us farther apart, until we refuse to change our ideas (even when we’re wrong) and the other person’s behavior simply confirms our own sense of rightness. Nor will I ever unstop my ears and listen to what the other person is saying. Was Obama really indoctrinating our children into a socialist agenda? Was he trying to encourage young people to stay in school?

 I listened to parents call into a radio station yesterday morning about the President’s speech. One man said he wouldn’t let his children decide for themselves what they thought of Obama’s words, just like he wouldn’t let them “decide for themselves whether it was okay to do crystal meth, drink alcohol or do crack.” Huh?

 The man’s intentions may be good. My issue is with his words, not him. This is a polarizing rhetoric if I ever heard one: comparing the choice to listen to a presidental address to the choice to do meth. So listening to anyone who disagrees with me is as dangerous as doing drugs. The subject doesn’t matter, the actual words don’t matter. I hate this person too much to consider that. All that matters is my hatred, my sense that I am RIGHT and they are WRONG, and I’m gonna hang onto that for dear life and teach my kids to do the same.

 Is this attitude wise?

 Look, I disagree with President Obama on certain issues, just as I’ve disagreed with past presidents and other leaders. I just don’t see a need to stick clenched fists in my ears and refuse to hear what he says.

How will I know whether I agree with him if I’m not listening? How will I know his arguments—or my own—if I don’t listen? If all my daughters hear are my views, what’s going to happen when they hit the real world and are bombarded with conflicting ideas? It’s my job as a parent to teach them how to listen—how to think critically about what is being said—and guide, not brainwash, them as they learn to think.

There’s a difference between fighting over an issue and hating the person on the opposite side. Let’s put aside the hatred.





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