The Norman Transcript

November 19, 2012

Example of ‘reaching out’ to community

By L. Dee Fink
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — I want to begin by thanking Joe Ted Miller for his excellent essay on the need for all of us to reach out to one another (Transcript, Nov. 11). This has value in all aspects of life but especially in the political dimension of our society right now. We seem to have lost the ability our predecessors had: to listen to and work with people who have different values, make different assumptions and, hence, advocate different policies.

In my view, this inability to listen to one another is the underlying problem behind the gridlock we currently see in Congress. This problem begins, however, with the public, not just with our elected representatives.

We citizens need to learn how to dialogue across differences and then vote for representatives who can do the same. Because of this view, I have been making my own effort to create such dialogue and want to share one recent example.

While having breakfast with a neighbor a few weeks ago, I happened to mention that my political views can be characterized as being on the “far left.” My friend smiled and replied that his were on the “far right.” This surprised me but led me to wonder, later, what he meant by describing himself as “far right.”

But then I asked what I meant by “far left” — and surprised myself when I did not have a ready answer.

So I invited my friend to breakfast again to explore what we each meant by these self-characterizations.

The resulting discussion was wonderful. We each only tried to understand each other, not change the other’s views.

I learned about the experiences he had had that led him to be concerned about the high level of welfare expenditures and the sense of entitlement that some recipients display.

He heard my concern about various forms of social injustice, some of which are prompted by the deep desire for greater profits by large corporations, e.g. Enron, mortgage banks.

We also discovered, though, that we had some important common ground. We both thought there should be a balanced budget, and we both concluded this would probably require a combination of budget cuts and increased tax revenue.

We both could see the need for curtailing some social program spending, and if there is going to be increased tax revenue, this should come primarily from those best able to afford it, i.e. the upper income group, not the middle or lower groups.

In the end, we both felt enlightened and enlarged in our political views of what this country needs. The key to this growth came, as Miller argued, from both of us being willing to listen to the other carefully and openly — without trying to stop and convince the other he was wrong.

As Miller also noted in his essay, the founders of this country had political differences just as large as ours today. The difference is they recognized that a democracy, to succeed, must have citizens and elected representatives who are able to listen, find that common ground and, as necessary, compromise.

Can we each begin that process ourselves?

L. Dee Fink, a writer and educator, lives in Norman.

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