Staff column: Narrowing the broad brush we use
It seems to be human nature to make others into stereotypical simpletons. If you don't believe that just read the comments in newspapers regarding stories that appear on their web sites.
In Utah the initial comments on almost any story eventually turn into conservative vs. liberal or Mormon vs. non-Mormon. This seems to happen even when the story being commented upon is about something as simple as which is the best dog food for Labradors or what you should buy your grandkids for Christmas. It seems everyone wants to turn everything into an argument.
While at this point we don't include comments about articles or editorials on our web site (we are working on doing that in the near future) we often hear from the public about articles or opinion pieces in our paper. Even if the subjects in the pieces are controversial, usually people are polite, even if they disagree with what is written.
Over the years, though, things I have written have gathered some very interesting comments. Some of what I have been told I can't print. But what interests me the most about what people comment on, is what my political persuasion is.
By some I have been called a "left wing liberal" one day and the next day a "right wing wacko" by someone else. Others have told me that my best friend must be Ted Kennedy, but another time someone said I ought to tell people that I belong to the Chris Buttar's club of stupid comments.
Yes, I have been called many things. But of what political stance am I really?
To be honest, I hadn't ever thought about it too much until one day when I was writing a piece on government efficiency. I found myself disgusted on how poorly some agencies were managed and started to rant and rave to myself. When I listened to what that inner voice was saying, I found I sounded like Pat Robertson on the 700 Club.
So, I said to myself, I must be a conservative. But then I started thinking about all the things that I believe in and my views on those things that fall left of center.
So does that make me a liberal?
It was an epithany so I decided to make a list. Lists have always solved problems for me, so it seemed an appropriate thing to do. On a piece of paper I made a list of all the controversial subjects I could think of from the bridge to nowhere to whether government money should be used to study the sex habits of algae. Next to the list of subjects at the top of the page I put a C, L and M for conservative, liberal, moderate. Then I began to make check marks in the appropriate columns.
Funny how you can even surprise yourself when you actually sit down and start to write down your beliefs. You find yourself agreeing with people you can't stand and disagreeing with others that you adore.
When I was finished, I found my views on the world to be very mixed up and actually somewhat disconcerting. On some things I didn't even make sense to myself, so it is no wonder that I make little sense to others at times.
Looking at what I came up with, I guess I am a social liberal while being financially conservative. But neither purely so. So politically speaking I am more complicated even than I thought.
My point to all this is that when we paint someone with a broad brush, but only know a part of their political face, we make a big mistake. One hot political issue does not a person make.
So I know from now on, when I find myself judging someone with just a little information about them, I will be sure to use a narrower brush than I have in the past.