Mouths on Fire

My Democratic-leaning computer didn’t burst into flames recently when I ran across a post on one of my Republican friends’ Facebook page. It was a quote from the late Adrian Rogers, a well-known conservative clergyman and past president of the Southern Baptist Convention. In part it read:

“You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.”

In the beginning, most of the 28 “comments” were rabidly in agreement, but as the hour rolled on, opposing comments, equally as passionate, began to appear.

And it struck me, as it has so often lately, that the vitriol on both sides of the opinion had diluted any hope of dealing with it. Nobody was listening. I could almost hear the arms breaking while everyone patted themselves on the back, and torches and pitchforks quickly appeared on the streets of Facebook.

If I had all the answers, I’d run for sainthood (although fundraising would be an issue). Differing opinions don’t mean either is wrong, they are just, well…different. I imagine somewhere in the middle ground of any rational analysis lies the truth, or some version of it, ordained only by a higher power, challenging us to look for her, to seek her out. And be better than we were before we started.

Sadly, most of us give up without even bothering to look. It’s much easier to shout down the opposing viewpoint than to thoughtfully listen to it, pick out the best of both sides. Mouth open, ears shut. It doesn’t take long before the brisk, passionate defense of our own position overrules our desire to enhance it. And the words begin to turn sour.

Even though I’m a Liberal and back the concept of some form of government support, as long as it is unavoidable and not abused, I still can see the logic in Dr. Rogers’ statement…as far as it went. But to me it stops several miles short, over-simplifying the issue to the point where it describes something that doesn’t exist and nobody wants. A partially-told truth is not the truth at all.

Sometimes, in our zeal to make a point we fall back into self-serving oversimplification, to the point that our words distort. The aggregate of life’s struggles can’t be captured in a clever phrase. It’s infinitely complex. Real life in the trenches involves emotions, hopes and dreams, failures, disappointments, insecurities, and more often than not, random opportunity.

One argument against helping the 99% is obvious and indisputable. The well-documented abuse of a well-intentioned system by thousands, maybe millions, that aren’t willing to help themselves, only poisons the well for all of us. Those self-serving scavengers are on my crap list too. But geeze-o-pete, if the car is broken, maybe instead of setting it on fire, we should just repair it. We’re smart enough to find a way to deny the offenders without punishing those that desperately want to rise above it.

I say, with some conviction, that if any of the 1%’ers, including and especially our almost uniformly wealthy congress, suddenly found themselves in the Twilight Zone, thrust into the unfamiliar role of not knowing where their next meals or house payments were coming from, their votes would be considerably different.

The late Flannery O’Connor once said “The truth does not change according to our ability to handle it.” I’m not saying Dr. Rogers’ convictions are ill-advised. I get his point. But if we boil away all the rhetoric and verbal cover, I’d wager there is more substance left unstated in his words than one paragraph could ever deal with.

I’ll continue to welcome spirited debate with any of our legislators or blog friends on any issue of their choosing. I could use a good education. But I’ll bet if we jettison the earplugs and pass out chill pills at the beginning of any gathering, it might be possible for all of us to get a fresh take on something we thought was a done deal.

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