Long ago and far away - you know, back when Bill Clinton was still in the White House - there seemed to be an unending stream of “national dialogues" and “people's forums" and “town hall meetings" targeting America's persistent ailments of racism, sexism, greed (well, Republican greed anyway) and intolerance. Remember John Hope Franklin's “national dialogue on race relations"? The feminist glass-ceiling conferences?
If you do, it's because (warning: judgmental statement imminent) you read more than 98% of your fellow citizens. These propaganda events were of interest mainly to posturing politicians, professional malcontents, the agit-prop professionals in the national press - and folks who stay abreast of political tomfoolery for a living. People who agreed with one another would get together, and some politician or activist would preach to the choir. Other than building one another up in what they already believed, these phony events had zero effect on the national psyche.
Stop lecturing me!
Now, it doesn't matter one bit to me what your political beliefs are, as long as you are not advocating armed insurrection. There is room in the “big tent" of American civil society for everyone, I really believe that. What irks me a bit is this overblown “summit meeting" mentality that seeks to convince me of this or that or the other political viewpoint by pounding me over the head with it. Whatever it is you are trying to convey to me - free lunch for everyone, or prison terms for cigarette smokers - that way of getting the point across doesn't work.
Only the painstaking, long-term, up-close-and-personal approach - the political version of religious evangelism - will move us forward. Lately I have been experiencing the downside of attempting accelerated persuasion via op-eds, essays, columns and such. Fact is, most people who care even a tiny bit about politics have pretty much staked out their turf and have their minds made up. People are peculiarly immune to facts, logic, reason and classical argumentation once they become “true believers" of any kind.
One person at a time
I have concluded that people are right to criticize me when I take an overbearing approach. I can sound like I am wagging my finger, too. And I have learned a valuable lesson. The only way to reach people is as neighbors, not nags; as friends and colleagues, not fanatics or ideologues; as fellow unhyphenated Americans, not members of “this" sect, “that" ethnic group or the “same side. "
It's a tall order, and it requires dedication and personal involvement. Each of us needs to live our principles, display them in our daily lives and work patiently to pull our families, friends, neighbors and fellow citizens out of the dark hole of ignorance and despair. Many of us do want to change the world, as do our sworn enemies. It is important to remember, though, that few Americans truly advocate the violent overthrow of the government. Short of that, they can say pretty much anything and I will defend their right to say it. The deal needs to be that they will also support my free speech. People are starting to lose hold of this important principle, without which we cannot long survive.
We must all understand that the world really only changes one person at a time. Start today, at home, in your neighborhood, at your workplace - and so will I. It really is the only way. If the process we use can be like this - peaceful, voluntary, coming from a place of compassion and not anger or hatred - then I am really not too worried about how it will turn out. The process will dictate a reasonable, and hopefully lasting, result.
By Scott McQuarrie, representing the EZWatch Pro brand, a leading provider of computer based security-cameras for business, commercial and government applications.