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Dialogue, Truth, and Its More Obnoxious Fans

Uncle Sam wants YOU

to learn English

—bumper sticker

I saw this bumper sticker while driving up the interstate yesterday, and after the automatic cringe, it got me thinking about a much larger question than the wrangle over English speaking.

To get to that question, however, let’s probe the bumper sticker a bit more. It seems self-evident that learning the language of the country where you live carries many advantages. If I moved to France (please, O Lord), I could get a job, buy stamps, and find a good dentist way more easily by knowing and speaking French. On a broader level, I could contribute more of myself to my new community—through volunteering, writing, promoting political candidates, etc.—by knowing and speaking French.

So in the United States, learning English enables you to transact your business and make a difference in ways that not learning English can’t. Because of this, you might even say that Uncle Sam would be delighted if non-English-speakers learned English, so they can bring their whole selves to the public square.

None of that changes the fact that the bumper sticker is aggressive and cringeworthy. So here comes the larger question:

How on earth can we hear truth—even a grain of it—in an opinion expressed so offensively?

In an ideal world, of course, the people who express opinions this way would become more civil in their speech and their inner lives. In our imperfect world, there’s a strong temptation to simply ignore these folks. And to ignore any hint of what they express.

Maybe that’s the right thing to do. But here’s why it might not be.

I remember a cartoon in which one fellow at a bar said to another, “All I know is, if you’re against pollution, it can’t be all bad.” See the problem? As we dismiss someone we find obnoxious, we also dismiss his perspective—lock, stock, and barrel—and wind up in a place where we don’t want to be.

Examples? Here’s one to start us off: I’m very worried about the growth of the national debt. Have been since long before it became the cause célèbre of the right wing. But I find it very hard to express that opinion when the more rabid wing of the Tea Party has shouted it—and various distortions of it—from the housetops. I feel almost squeezed into the position of “If you’re against the national debt, it can’t be all bad.”

I’ll bet you can think of a hundred other examples. Go for it. Write about them in the Comments section below.

5 Responses to “Dialogue, Truth, and Its More Obnoxious Fans”

  • Jahcqui Guardiola says:

    Lately I have been the target of obnoxious opinion sharing, mostly in the name of fun. Even though I’ve been called a Bleeding Heart Socialist by this person and have had the USSR national anthem dedicated to me – Casey Kasem-style, when we aren’t in a public forum it is amazing how similar our views are. In other words, we are both more centrist than the labels given to us by what the demographic information of a Zogby poll might indicate. The main reason I keep a running conversation with this person is because I WANT to know how and why someone who seemingly thinks completely differently than me about the world around us came to those conclusions. Is this person just parroting the pundits, or do they have valid reasons I haven’t considered in my life experiences? I think the bumper stickers and the political labels are more fashion statement than actual substance. If Twilight fans were mostly of voting age, I bet there would be a poll of which political leaning was more for Edward and which was more for Jacob. It gets that silly. The truly sad part is that silliness extends to our actual lawmaking process.

    • admin says:

      Right with you, Jahcqui. I have several friends that are almost exactly like yours, and though sometimes they aggravate me no end, I hold onto them for just this reason. (Oh, and also the fact that I actually like these people.) In some cases, their surprising insights have forced me to give up my preconceptions of the groups to which they belong.

  • Nancy says:

    John,

    As I began reading your posting I thought about the bumper sticker. I think it speaks so much to the overall frustation of people today. The reason the BS is so nasty is because people have now been trained to shout lower, speak tougher, be nastier to get their point across. It also speaks to the fact that in most likelihood even if they began in a soft gentle way to say what they wanted they got them now were, were beaten down. Hence the bumper sticker. They are frustrated and aggrevated. They are tired of (in this case) not being able to understand call customer service reps, clerks in stores, etc.

    I never thought I’d find myself that way. After all I was raised with a totally different attitude and view point. But in the last several years as I’ve had to deal with first insurance companies, then businesses and finally misc. organizations it seems that they have been slowly training us to yell, scream, or throw temper tantrums before anyone will pay attention to us. I feel it rise up in me from both ends…and I hate it. I can’t count the number of times I’ve gotten off the phone from calls with Verizon or Ebay and just wanted to take a shower to wash out the communication methods they now employ. The amount of wasted time I have had to spend trying to get service. The way they treat me like an idiot, etc. It almost makes me want to do anything to avoid that. I’ve tried tons of tactics and yet the only one that seems to work is to be firm and to fake anger. How said that our world has come to that.

    Not too long ago I had a discussion with a friend that spoke to how in dealing with companies today we just might as well throw hissy fits right away, they won’t pass us along or deal with our issues til we have has done our appropriate performance for them. How frustrating can that be. Certainly the escalading violence of people shooting others shows the overall frustration level is much higher in the 21st century than in the 20th. So the ultimate question is how do we change it. How do we go back to dealing with people on the other end of the phone without having to yell at them. Its sad that we’ve gotten to this level. What a frustrated world we live in!

  • John Backman says:

    Really interesting points, Nancy. I had never connected the profound level of depersonalization with some of these other trends. Ironically, feeling alienated and depersonalized not only makes you want to yell more, but allows you to get away with it–because the person on the other end seems no longer like a person to us. I’m never going to talk with her again, so why not give her hell when I have a problem? That’s a scary thought.

    This is one reason I tend to gravitate toward individual, spiritual solutions to these issues. As isolated individuals, we’re not going to change the trends: they’re too big for that. But we can change ourselves (or, rather, allow God to change us). And as we change, who knows how much change we can foster in others?

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