Jewish World Review Dec. 27, 2000 / 1 Teves, 5761
There actually is a lesson for us in
all of this
IF ALL OF US are smart enough, something
potentially very good will come out of this year's
It will benefit not President-elect George W.
Bush, not Vice President Al Gore -- but the rest
of us. Those of us who have nothing to do with
If the effect of the lesson we can learn is widespread enough -- if the ripples
reach out well beyond Washington, and Tallahassee, and Austin -- then
something remarkable has a chance to occur:
A political story -- a story that has been ugly -- can actually have a helpful
impact on our lives.
What is the lesson?
We're not always right.
Each of us, any of us -- we don't always have the only answer.
That would seem to be a self-evident thing to say -- we all grow up being
taught to respect other people's opinions and beliefs.
Yet in recent years, this is something that has often been shoved aside. The
people who get ahead -- in politics, in business, in sports, in opinion writing
and broadcasting -- are those who behave as if they never have a single
doubt that they are 100 percent correct.
The loudest wins; the most brash prospers. That is how it has been for a
while now; if you pause to give the other person even a little bit of a benefit of
a doubt, if you concede that his or her position may have some merit, even
though it's not your position . . . if you do that, you increasingly are seen as
weak, vulnerable. "Take no prisoners" -- once a slogan of warfare, and a
brutal and chilling slogan at that -- has insinuated itself into the daily life of the
So how does what happened on Election Day, and the tumultuous weeks
Because of this:
The nation was so closely divided in its preferences for which candidate
should lead us that you have to either assume that half the people in the nation
(the half that disagrees with you) are total idiots . . . or you have to consider
the possibility that they aren't idiots -- they just look at things somewhat
differently than you do.
In Florida, the state's highest court was as closely divided as a court can be in
the most crucial vote that court may ever take. Again -- if you want to believe
that learned jurists who know the entire world is watching them are divided
into bright people and fools, that's up to you. But you might want to think
about a second option: that they may be good and thoughtful people who
simply disagree on something important.
Same thing with the United States Supreme Court: as close as a court can get
-- five members believed there were no overriding reasons to let the drive to
recount the ballots continue, four believed that good reasons existed. In our
current culture, the temptation is to fragment ourselves into angry camps,
charging that one side (the side with which we agree) is full of justice and
intelligence, while the other (the side with which we disagree) is driven only
by politics and cynicism.
But maybe it's more complicated than that -- maybe people of good faith can,
in good faith, disagree. Not because either position is inherently wrong -- but
because people are people, and can react differently to different events.
Back to the rest of us for a second -- back to those of us who will never run
for office and will never wear judicial robes:
We can either continue along in our daily lives in the present atmosphere of
I-believe-this-therefore-you're-totally-wrong ... or we can take something
valuable out of what we have all just been through.
We can look around us and conclude that, just maybe, when half the nation
disagrees so evenly on something, when distinguished courts split so closely
on something, then perhaps this is a sign. Perhaps it is a reminder of
something we never should have lost sight of.
Life is complicated. Life has gradations and shadings. There are many
questions -- maybe even most questions -- to which there is no right answer
or wrong answer. We all become so angry at each other so easily -- maybe
this is because we're working under the wrong assumption. Maybe it's
because each of us is always so ready to say: I'm right. Without considering
that this severely limits the way we look at the world we all share.
Thirty-two years ago, another Republican president was preparing to move
into the White House, replacing a Democrat. One of the first things that
incoming president asked of the country was a seemingly simple request: He
asked for a lowering of voices, on the chance that if we spoke more softly to
one another, we might actually be heard.
That was Richard Nixon -- and he didn't get his wish. Voices grew only
louder during his time in the White House; divisions grew only more stark.
We're getting another chance, it seems. The election of 2000 proved one of
two things: either that half of us are dead wrong, or that we all have things to
learn from each other. It's our choice -- and no politician can make it for
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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