I attended a town hall meeting last week and manned a table collecting signatures for petitions for both ethics reform and fair redistricting in Utah. A small group of women opposed to both petitions showed up. One woman accosted people signing the petitions urging them not to sign anything they hadn’t read. Of course, nobody should sign documents they haven’t read, but few of the signers heeded her. Those interested in signing were already informed on the issue. When the meeting began, the woman jumped to her feet to denounce the petitions. Now, I’m all for passion, but too much passion expressed inappropriately comes across as hysteria. The speaker finally convinced the woman to sit down and let the meeting move on to other topics. Then a woman approached my table and told me I had no right to be at the meeting with petitions. Her friend tried to write down names of people who had signed. I don’t know what organization these women represented, but they were a prime example of the current polarization of American discourse.
Now these ladies who feared circulating a petition with which they did not agree were more amusing than annoying at that meeting, I might feel differently if I had to encounter them as neighbors, ward members, or work colleagues. I generally don’t care for people who try to change my mind. Does anyone?
My brother badgers me about politics. He’s a right-wing conservative living in a very blue state. I consider myself relatively moderate, but can’t agree with Doogie’s claims about the environment, intelligent design, and other issues. He doesn’t seem to hear anything I say. He twists my words and accuses me of statements I haven’t made. I have finally realized that Doogie really isn’t talking to me. He’s finishing up arguments he’s had with liberal thinkers in his state. He’s saying to me what he wishes he’d said to them.
I no longer have the energy for the angst enjoyed by Doogie and the anti-petition ladies. Why argue about something today when tomorrow new information or experience may cause me to evaluate and change my opinion? But I do think it’s important to stand up for people or groups who are unfairly maligned. I couldn’t just let my visiting teacher partner and the sister we were visiting denounce gays and Lesbians as sinners who deliberately choose to break divine commandments. I think I handled that one tactfully, asking if they were aware that scientific research, which President Hinckley acknowledged, indicates that homosexual tendencies are inborn.
Listening to illogical emotion is tough. Aunt Loosy gets all her information from Rush Limbaugh and other talk-radio hosts. Do I let her spout the ridiculous libel she shares because of her age, or do I offer counter information? Most of the time, I make a joke and change the topic from politics—as I’ve learned to do with Doogie. Sometimes relationships are more important than proving I’m right.