|AoH Ch. 2--Values
||[Apr. 22nd, 2009|02:53 pm]
Twelve Months of Reading
Chickens! I can see chickens out my window, scratching around, and they lay the most delicious eggs! But what does that have to do with values?|
This is so hard, for me, because it's the most critical thinking and reflection I've done since, oh, college. My brain hurts just like my poor neglected leg muscles after a 10-mile bike ride.
It was interesting that, after talking about how deep the divide was between Republican and Democrat, Obama opened this chapter with an anecdote about President Bush giving him advice on survival on Capitol Hill. Of course it segued well into his point that "no matter how wrong-headed I might consider their politics to be...I still find it possible, in talking to these men and women, to understand their motives, and to recognize in them values I share."
Obama's observation that "the stakes involved in Washington policy debates aer often so high...that even small diferences in perspective are magnified." Both sides feel that having things their way is life-or-death--because to continue or discontinue a policy or social practice may mean an altered way of living, for good or bad.
On page 51, Obama again mentions the divisive effect of the media, ie. "Spend time actually talking to Americans, and you discover that most evangelicals are more tolerant than the media would have us believe, most secularists more spiritual." In the era of 24-hour news on television and internet, Twitter, Facebook groups, shock-value soundbites, etc. how do we move past the thrill and entertainment of dischord (because let's face it, there's an illicit thrill, rooted somewhere in elementary school, in hearing somebody diss somebody else) and tune out those influences so that we can start finding our common ground?
For me, the key question in this chapter was, "What are the core values that we, as Americans, hold in common?" I love that Obama thoughtfully addressed this question for the remainder of the chapter, and that he does so in his politics. I remember, specifically, a question about abortion rights in, I think, the third presidential debate. McCain began talking about moral imperatives and absolutes--"ideology [overriding] whatever facts call theory into question." Obama said something like, "Look, I think we can all agree that abortion is not a good thing. Nobody, even pro-choice proponents, think abortion is a good thing, and instead of arguing over whether or not to abolish a woman's well-established right to reproductive freedom, let's focus on ways to reduce the number of abortions--by providing a support system for single mothers, and by teaching our young people that sexuality is sacred and should not be approached cavalierly." There he was, practicing what he preached about identifying core values, "faithfully [applying them} to the facts before us," trying to find common ground!
Matty, I don't know if I'd call empathy a common value, but it's a useful strategy for identifying common values. That's something I had a hard time with. Empathy might have been a common value at one time, but people--especially of our generation--can be so "me" oriented. It's like empathy is something we've forgotten along the way. (This is why people should pay attention to the high school required reading! Remember in "To Kill A Mockinbird" when Atticus suggests to Jem that he get into the other person's skin and walk around in it for a little while? Empathy!) I feel it's something we need to relearn, especially because it goes hand-in-hand with strong communication, ie. discussing rather than arguing. For that matter, I don't think it's pie-in-the-sky. I think it's a very real tool that can be used successfully by many people, if they learn it.
One last comment, and it's about my own cynicism. I think that Barack Obama is a very sincere man, and that he can do great things for helping our country find its footing again. I don't want to call him messianic, because that's a big burden to give someone who is very much human. However, I think he's a once-in-a-generation president. I think we've seen that he practices what he preaches (look how many town-hall meetings he STILL conducts!). However, he wrote this book with the knowledge he was going to run for office. With that in mind, I read with a skepticims that this is what he REALLY believes. I think that's something I liked so much about "Dreams from my Father," you knew there wasn't an agenda behind it.