Pushing Back the Darkness

For those who haven’t yet signed up for emails regarding my relocated Conversational Wordsmith blog, there’s a new post on it at my author website (carollouisewilde.com):

Pushing Back the Darkness

This blog is moving to my author page

This blog is moving to my author page at carollouisewilde.com. (The name is my maiden name and it seemed appropriate to use it for my fiction, most of which has roots going back well before I was married.)

For some time I’ve been quietly working on a series of fantasy novels set in a world I invented many years ago. There are seven books in the series, which is called The Nagaro Chronicle and features themes of honor and altruism. The first book, Gift of Chance, is due to come out in 2015, and it is time to refocus my efforts around that event.

I thought I could maintain the blog in both locations, but I couldn’t find a way to conveniently post to both simultaneously – and posting everything twice is proving too burdensome. Most of the existing posts are already at carollouisewilde.com, along with all your wonderful comments. I intend to shut this site down as of the end of this year – assuming the author website is up to snuff. (It is already open.)

If you’ve enjoyed my posts, I hope you’ll follow me to the new location. If that doesn’t work for you, I want you to know I sincerely appreciate the interest you’ve shown over the years. To those who have commented, I’ve enjoyed our conversations. You’ve kept me going.

Best wishes to you all.

 

Human diversity: We’re not all the same under the skin

We are all born inside our heads and we live our entire lives there. What we understand about others is largely deduced from watching the shadows on the wall. We can potentially gain insight by talking with other people – provided we are able to open our minds to the possibility that they may be both similar to us and different from us.

Given our congenital myopia, it’s hardly surprising if our first assumption is that another person’s mind must work the same way ours does. Not that humans have always thought so, of course. A large part of human history has been dominated by the struggle to see past our superficial differences – to understand that just because someone has a different skin color, or hair texture, or eye shape, doesn’t mean that the mind inside is radically different from ours. As a species we’re still trying to get past the stage of killing, enslaving, vilifying – or just dismissing – those who don’t look like us on the outside.

Maybe people currently find it easier to “embrace diversity” if they see the differences between people as trivial and superficial. We’re all alike at the core, right? We all have the same needs and want the same things, don’t we? The trouble is that this kind of thinking dovetails all too easily with our inability to see inside of other people’s heads and can lead to overlooking or dismissing some very real – and very important – differences in how people’s minds work.

People have different mental abilities – intelligence, if you will – but also different mental talents, perceptiveness, and perceptions. Some have talent for language, some for math. Some people are good at understanding themselves, others are self-blind. We have different personalities: optimist versus pessimist, introvert versus extrovert. The basic emotions are expressed at different levels in different people. Some people struggle constantly with fear, others are all but fearless. This one is almost impossible to rile, that one needs a course in anger management.

Regardless of whether these differences are genetically determined or acquired through life experiences (I believe it’is some of both), they are real. The up-shot is that we do not all face the same challenges even though we may be placed in the same situations. Some of us will encounter problems that others will never be able to fully understand because they cannot see things as we do or feel what we feel. By extension, there are no uniformly applicable solutions to people’s personal problems. One-size-fits-all is no more valid in solving the difficulties people have in dealing with their lives than it is in clothing their bodies.

I see internal, mental, differences as the last (or next?) frontier of human diversity. The way I see it, we will not have fully embraced our diversity until we have learned to understand our internal differences and to treat them with acceptance, respect, and compassion – until we are prepared to treat all people as the unique individual beings that they are.

So much for the heavy stuff. Feel free to disagree, of course. Or tell me about your personal experiences with human diversity, internal or external.

Can fiction change the world?

Ray Bradbury once said that he wasn’t trying to predict the future; he was trying to prevent it.
Everyone accepts that nonfiction books can be very influential, but does fiction ever change the world? Well, I think it can—by changing awareness or attitudes. Usually, when it happens, that was the author’s intent. I believe Charles Dickens hoped to improve the lot of London’s poor by presenting their plight to the readers of his Victorian tales—such familiar works as Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s abolitionist novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin was clearly intended to influence attitudes towards slavery during the period leading up to the American Civil War. It’s generally credited with having some impact. (It was the best-selling novel of the 19th Century, although it’s now often derided for its sentimentality and its stereotypes.) Other influences were not intentional: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories have probably influenced the development of forensic science, although Doyle had no such intention.

Even if a book doesn’t change the world, it may still change someone’s life. Most writers of fiction are working from a desire to entertain – or, in a mundane sense, to sell books to readers. Readers simply won’t buy books if they aren’t entertained by them. Writers may also be driven by an urge to create, the need to respond to their innate desire to tell a story. But what makes a book entertaining? What makes a story a good story? I think ultimately it is the human element. The writer takes a character and puts him or her in a situation, and then proceeds to describe the consequences of what the character does. The up-shot may not be earthshaking, but it must at least ring true. For any given person reading that story, the truth it contains may resonate in a special way – a meaningful or a helpful way. That may not be why writers write, or why readers read; it’s just an inescapable byproduct of the whole activity. And once in a while a work of fiction may just capture the mind of a generation and take it somewhere it otherwise would not have gone.

Well, maybe that’s going a little far. But I don’t think fiction writers should be put down for engaging in a “trivial” activity. I don’t think they should sell themselves short. After all, you just never know.

What do you think? Ever want to change the world? Can you think of a fiction work that has done that? Is there one that has changed you?

In Defense of Fantasy

fantasy landscape

fantasy landscape (Photo credit: sekundo)

As writers go, fantasy writers don’t get a lot of respect in this world. Genre fiction in general doesn’t get a lot of respect outside the circles of those who read it or write it—unless of course someone manages to write a bestseller and make a lot of money. That always seems to be okay with people.

I think fantasy in particular just seems frivolous to many people. There’s also the sense that it’s a form of escapism, which some people see as a weakness. I could defend the escapist aspect of fantasy on the grounds that it exercises the imagination. You may or may not think imagination is an important thing to exercise, but that’s not actually where I want to go with this post. (I already explained in a previous post that I believe storytelling developed in humans because it’s useful, and that exercising the imagination is part of that.)

I have a more fundamental point to make here: There’s an element of fantasy in all fiction. Otherwise, it would be nonfiction. In order to create a work of fiction, a writer has to reach beyond what exists or has existed in terms of characters and events. What fantasy writers—and also science fiction writers—do that sets them apart most from other fiction writers is they also venture beyond the known in terms of setting. Characters and events can also be fantastic, of course, but for writers in the fantasy and sci-fi genres setting is fair game and often a large part of the fun. (Fantasy and science fiction tend to grade into each other and are often lumped together, so I don’t particularly try to separate them here.)

Now, I’m sure a lot of the fantasy and sci-fi fans out there are saying, wait a minute! Just because our writers make up a lot of stuff doesn’t mean they don’t have to worry about making things be true to life. Characters still have to be believable in their reactions to those fantastic events. Outside the boundaries of any magic involved, the laws of physics still have to apply. And of course this is the other half of my point. There has to be something in the story that is congruent with the reader’s experience. Otherwise, there will be nothing for him or her to relate to and no reason to be interested in the story.

So, my point is: All types of fiction must contain both elements that are novel (that’s why it’s called a “novel”) and elements that are familiar. Fantasy is just one end of a continuum, one that allows the mind a particularly free rein—at least potentially. Fantasy, like any genre or class of fiction, has its own conventions and tropes. There are in fact sub-genres within fantasy, and within science fiction, each with its own conventions which may be unfamiliar or even distracting or annoying to other readers. But the best of fantasy, like the best of any type of fiction, is not blandly conventional. Rather, it stretches that envelope. It gives us visions either strange or wonderful, because it is fantasy, but it also provides us a glimpse of uncompromising truth.

On Winners and Losers

Failure

Failure (Photo credit: StormKatt)

Every time I hear someone call another human being a “loser,” I feel it like the lick of a lash across my soul.

 

There are no Winners or Losers, only people – people who sometimes win and sometimes lose, who sometimes succeed and sometimes fail, at different things, and at different times, and under different circumstances. This is the only realistic and rational position on the subject. It’s also the one that is most kind and most humane.

 

When you label someone else a loser, you are doing him a cruelty and an injustice.

 

When you label yourself a loser –  because of some specific failure or perceived pattern of failures, or because someone told you that you were – you’re doing yourself an injustice. You’re discounting every success you’ve ever had or will ever have, and sabotaging your very hope for success. This is pretty obvious.

 

What’s less obvious is that trying to fend off the “loser” label through so-called “positive thinking” by telling yourself you’re a “winner” is also a potentially self-destructive strategy. The odds are that sooner or later you’ll have a failure that will cause you to doubt the truth of that “winner” label.

 

The problem, you see, is with the labels – with the whole concept that “winners” and “losers” are things that really exist, and therefore things that people can actually be.

 

There are no Winners or Losers, only people.

 

Don’t label yourself.

 

And, please, don’t label anyone else, either.

 

Thank you.

 

The preceding has been a public service announcement (personal rant), courtesy of one who’s had her share of both successes and failures so far in this life and fully expects the pattern to continue.

 

 

 

Talent: How to tell if you have it

Creative Monkey Pencil Drawing is Super Cute

Creative Monkey Pencil Drawing is Super Cute (Photo credit: epSos.de)

(Warning: This is a long post, and not for the faint of heart. No sugar-coating, here.)

The first thing I want to say is that talent is a gift, not an accomplishment. Accomplishments are achieved through effort. No effort: no credit. Using one’s talent to achieve something impressive usually requires some effort, maybe even quite a lot of effort, but a person with little or no talent may deserve far more credit for achieving far less simply because of the amount of effort involved.

The second thing I want to say is that there are different degrees and types of talent –  as some astute readers of my previous post pointed out. Talent isn’t all-or-nothing, and even in a given field, it comes in different flavors.  Within the field of fantasy fiction, the talent of J.R.R. Tolkien differs from that of, say, Ray Bradbury, whose talent is different from that of Louis Carroll.  A.A Milne and Dr. Seuss both wrote wonderful fanciful works for children, but those works are very different in just so many ways. Each of these writers produced something unique and special in its own way, and I don’t think any one of them could have done as well at what any of the others did.

What qualifies me to write on the subject of talent, you may ask. Well, how about half a century of trying to do things – of succeeding and failing – and of watching other people try to do things and succeed and fail…

Let me give you some examples.

There was always a piano in the house when I was growing up, and I tried three times in my childhood and youth to learn to play, at least twice through paid lessons. I remember best the last and most prolonged effort. It was marked by a discouraging rate of progress that stalled completely when I began learning to add simple chords to the melody. I simply could not get through The Irish Washerwoman (played at half-speed) without making a mistake (usually several). It seemed the need to play multiple notes simultaneously with both hands was more than my nervous system could handle.  My general lack of talent for things requiring manual dexterity was confirmed when I later tried playing the recorder (baroque flute) – on which you play one note at a time but using more than one finger for each note – and touch-typing, which uses only one finger at a time to produce each letter.  The bottom line: When it comes to rapid-finger-movement manual skills, I’m slow, I make a lot of mistakes, my rate of improvement is glacial, and my skill plateaus at dismally low levels.

Now contrast my experience with drawing: When I was in elementary school people started saying, “That’s really good, Carol; I wish I could draw like that.” Those early drawings weren’t that good, actually, but I guess they were better than what other kids could do, and I kept getting better at such a rate that the compliments kept coming. People would also ask how I’d gotten so good. I couldn’t tell them. I’d drawn spontaneously from an early age and I spent quite a lot of hours doing it, certainly, but I did so because I liked it. It wasn’t effort, for me. I was generally pleased with what I produced, but kept trying to do a little better because I just wanted to.

I had no art lessons as a child. While I took art classes in junior high and high school, those classes were largely just opportunities for students to show what they could do and experiment with different media. There was very little taught of a how-to nature. I did learn a few things in art classes at the college level, but I wouldn’t have been taking college art classes if I hadn’t already been pretty good at it.

Now, one could hypothesize that there’s something fundamentally different about playing a musical instrument than about drawing – that if I’d spent enough time at the piano, I could have ended up with a scholarship to a music conservatory. I don’t buy it. Take my father in law (not literally). He grew up in rented rooms above a blues bar in Pittsburgh before WWII. The family didn’t have much, but they did have an old piano. (I think maybe his mom gave lessons on it.) Well, he taught himself to play that thing by sitting down and trying to play the things he heard wafting up from downstairs. He had no lessons, and he couldn’t read a note of music. He played entirely by ear, and in a horrendous key that was all sharps, but he was good enough that when he enlisted in the army at the age of eighteen, everyone in his unit knew him as the piano player. He played the accordion too. Basically, if it had a keyboard, he could play it. But if you ever said, “Gee, I wish I could play like that,” he’d tell you to just sit down and try to play something.  Sure, you had to work at it some, but basically that was all there was to it as far as he was concerned.

My father in law always kept a drawing on the wall that I’d done of my husband about the time we were married. It seemed I couldn’t visit without having him go on about how good that drawing was and how he didn’t know how I could do that. Finally I told him that for me drawing the picture was like him playing the piano. It wasn’t that hard for me because I had talent for drawing, just like playing the piano wasn’t that hard for him because he had talent for playing the piano. He finally seemed to get it.

Okay. So I define “talent” as an innate ability to do something that a lot of other people can’t do. It may also manifest as an ability to do something better, or with less effort.

We generally apply the term to the ability to do complex and impressive things – not to trivial traits like tongue-rolling, or obvious physical attributes like being tall enough to reach the top shelf. I assume that talents are written in our genes, if we knew where to look – but I would also bet that they are multi-gene traits that would be pretty hard to sort out completely.

And, based on my vast (ha ha) experience, I’ve identified a few basic characteristics of talented people.  And, if you still have the stomach for this, here goes:

1. Talent manifests early – not necessarily early in a person’s life, but early in a person’s efforts to do a thing. In a group of students trying something for the first time, the ones with talent will stand out, if not in their very first effort then within the first few efforts. If there is any delay it will be because someone or something is holding them back – there is some misconception, they’re being told to do things wrong, (the judges are taking bribes), or they’re hampered by some identifiable handicap.

The bottom line: Talented people don’t work and struggle through years of mediocrity and then suddenly discover – wow! I’ve got talent! Barring some conspiracy of fate or humankind, if you’ve been working on a thing for quite a while and the talent hasn’t come shining through, it’s not going to.

2. For talented people, effort yields progress that is relatively rapid and continuous. This applies to activities that require acquisition of skill or knowledge. (The word relatively is important here.) If progress could be plotted on a graph, the more talented person’s curve would rise more rapidly and top out at a higher level than that of the less talented person. Talented people can, of course, hit temporary snags or plateaus, but they tend to reach higher levels than less-talented people before this happens – and, it’s temporary. They can also, of course, be adversely affected by those external circumstances or handicaps mentioned above, but an observant person should be able to figure out what these are.

So, if you’re trying to learn to do something – and trying, and trying -­ and you just don’t seem to be making progress, it’s time to worry. If there’s nothing obvious getting in your way, and you’re not at the level you want to be at or need to be at to achieve success in your field, it’s probably time to find a new field.

3. Talent is self-rewarding. Talented people often work quite hard at what they do, but they tend to do so voluntarily. They may say that they “love the work” or that it “isn’t work” for them. This is because talent leads directly to success, and success is rewarding. (It helps that they also get lots of praise.) If their lives permit, talented people tend naturally to pursue their talents once they find them – assuming they have any interest – because they’ve found something that works for them. The more diligent and driven will pour in effort and will soar, the more indolent may persistently dabble. Talented artists “struggling for their art” are generally struggling against external circumstances, or perhaps against a conflicting personal handicap (Beethoven with his hearing loss). Perhaps their work isn’t appreciated by the society of their time, or they are being pushed to perform at extravagant levels to satisfy the demands of their patrons or the public. Those who choose professions that depend upon their talent may struggle because of the need to support themselves financially.  Their art may not pay enough. In other words, art is relatively easy for the talented artist.  Being an artist may not be.

So if the pursuit of your dream seems to be all work and no reward – on any level – that’s another bad sign.

4. Talented people know what they are trying to do, and just do it. I think it’s said of Michelangelo that he could see his intended creation within the block of marble and all he had to do was remove the bits that didn’t belong. What I’m getting at here includes this concept but goes beyond it. Talented people tend to evolve within themselves a “vision” of what they want to create or achieve. They can see it, hear it, feel it. Even if they don’t have the vocabulary to describe it, they know what they’re trying to do. And, because they are talented, doing it is a relatively straightforward matter of putting in the time and effort. Relatively straightforward, I say. Some skills may have to be learned. Michelangelo wasn’t born knowing how to use a chisel. Once he’d acquired that basic skill, however, I doubt he had to think much about it. Learning one’s way around a piano is probably a bit more involved than mastering a chisel, but once you’ve gotten there, if you’re talented, basically all you have to do is play.

So, to put it bluntly, if you consistently feel like you’re floundering, odds are it’s time to get out of the water. The course ahead should be clearer than that, and the necessary steps should feel do-able.

A related point involves being able to distinguish quality from the lack of it. The ability to discern quality is not, however, a defining characteristic of the talented person. Obviously there are lots of people who know quality when they see it but have no ability to produce it themselves. These people may become patrons, aficionados, or critics. I can imagine, also, that a talented person might be able to naturally and effortlessly create wonderful things without himself being able to see what was so special about them. People can be blind to their own talent, and yet follow it because it’s what comes naturally. In general, though, knowing what you’re trying to do and knowing what quality is are pretty close to the same thing.

It’s a whole lot easier to write well if you at least know what good writing looks like.

And finally:

5. A word to the talented is sufficient. Talented people often don’t need a lot of instruction.  Depending on the activity involved, they might not need any. A person with musical ability could demonstrate their talent on a deserted island – with their voice, or improvised instruments. Someone with a talent for computer programming is going to need a more specialized environment.  Less-talented people will try to improve their performance by reading advice columns, following rules, or going to seminars on “ten ways to improve your… (whatever)  Talented people will find these same pointers either obvious, or unnecessary – and occasionally just plain wrong.  They either just know these things instinctively, or they figure them out for themselves. And if there is a trick of the trade they haven’t found on their own (yet), telling them once is sufficient (or showing them – semantics and technical jargon can get in the way). They get an instant aha!  and implementation for them is just a matter of doing it.

So, if you’re getting critiques on your work from knowledgeable people, and you can’t figure out what they’re telling you to do, you’re in trouble. Ditto if you keep on getting the same criticisms even after you think you’ve made the corrections.

Talented artists don’t paint by the numbers; they just paint.

Talented writers don’t write by the rules; they just write.

Sometimes life demands that we keep on struggling to do things we’re not very good at – like balancing the checkbook. I felt I needed to become a touch typist, and after thirty odd years (some of them really odd), I am a touch typist – just not a very impressive one, and I never will be. Generally, though, I don’t recommend beating your head against walls. Life is too short. If you find you don’t have talent for a thing, leave it to those who do – unless there’s some pressing reason why you must do it (or you just really want to), and you’re content with doing a less than stellar job of it. There is no shame in this.

Do the best you can, and then go find something that you are good at.

Dona nobis pacem

Dona Nobis Pacem    Peace…

(A brief poem for this day, Nov 4, 2012)

 

Peace…

It’s the word that should begin and end every day of the world, and every thought of every mind in it.

Peace…

It breathes like a sigh.

It whispers of hope and of the fulfillment of hope.

It sings a song to inspire us all.

Peace…

 

Are you with me?

 

 

Truth, Justice, and the Happy Ending

Parthenon from west

Parthenon from west (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My brother says the main difference between “great” literature and the rest of it is that great literature isn’t allowed to have a happy ending.

If there’s a happy ending to it, it automatically isn’t great.

Of course he’s being a little facetious, but not much. There does seem to be some truth in the notion. If one goes back to the ancient Greeks, for example, (always a good place to start for western culture), those folks wrote just two kinds of plays – comedies and tragedies. There was no “drama” category. A “comedy” was light entertainment, not to be taken seriously. Anything that was serious was a “tragedy.” The distinction still seems to be with us when we get to Shakespeare and it lingers with us today in that you still hear a happy ending described as too “easy” or too “trivial.” Happy endings aren’t “realistic,” people say. If the function of literature is to hold up a mirror to the world that reflects “truth,” then your story ought to be a downer since the real world can’t be counted on to deliver a happy ending.

Happy endings do, of course, occasionally happen in the real world, although arranging one often requires that one chose carefully where to end the story. One of my favorite movies is Apollo 13.  It’s such a great true story.  But that sublimely feel-good moment of homecoming is tempered by the voice-over epilogue that tells us about the subsequent lives of the three astronauts. It’s obvious that “they all lived happily ever after” can’t be literally true – because nobody lives forever. As Peter S. Beagle put it in The Last Unicorn, “There are no happy endings, because nothing ends.”  (That’s one of a number of profound observations made in that book – which I highly recommend.) Tolkien’s variant is better: “He lived happily ever after to the end of his days.” That, at least, is possible.

Cover of "The Last Unicorn"

Cover of The Last Unicorn

My brother’s rather cynical point is that there’s a certain smug, highbrow snobbishness to the rejection of the happy ending. Happy endings are popular, and if one is going to practice “high art” one mustn’t stoop to the level of appealing to the masses.

All of this got me to thinking about why happy endings are so popular. Obviously they make us feel good. We often identify with the protagonist, so a good outcome for the protagonist is, vicariously, a good outcome for us. On the other hand, some of us also take pleasure from reading about bad things happening to other people (generally the rich and famous), as shown by the popularity of the tabloid press. So what, exactly, is going on here?

There are probably various hypotheses one could offer, but the one I’m going with today is simply this:

Human beings crave justice. And justice, in the real world, all too often eludes us.

We want the world to be fair, and it isn’t. We enact laws in our societies in an effort to create justice in the world. We offer up prayers and make sacrifices to our gods in an effort to persuade them to give us – or those we care about – what we believe we each deserve. We join causes, we found nonprofit organizations. Some of us turn to vigilante-ism. If we have managed to come out on top in life, we may persuade ourselves that we have earned it, that those who are less successful must be less deserving. When all else fails, we tell ourselves that death is not the end and that it will all be made right in the hereafter.

Or, if we happen to be writers of fiction, we write stories with happy endings.

I think story-telling is a fundamental human trait, like bipedalism, complex language, tool use, and being a social animal. I previously wrote about the instructive nature of stories, and their entertainment value. But fiction also offers us a powerful opportunity to indulge our craving for justice. When, as a writer, you create a work of fiction, you are the god of your fictional universe, and the temptation inevitably presents itself to make the story turn out the way you know it ought to.  If someone works hard, he ought to be successful. If a person takes on an evil-doer, he should win. The sweet child who faces a life-threatening illness with faith and courage should pull through. Good deeds should be rewarded. Sacrifices should not be in vain.

We know that every story needs conflict in order to be interesting, and conflict implies that something has to go wrong for somebody. We happy-ending-lovers just want the story to turn out right in the end. Is that really too much to ask? I mean, if we want to see things turning out wrong, all be have to do is look around us. I, for one, get tired of all the injustice, the pain, the tears.

Turning out right can mean seeing bad people get their just deserts, as well as seeing good people get their just reward. A story that focuses entirely on a “bad” person could have a “bad” ending and still be “right.” (I just don’t personally enjoy focusing on bad people.) Endings that satisfy my desire for justice don’t have to have “happily ever after” endings.  They only have to make things right.

Two of my favorite movies are Gladiator and V for Vendetta. Neither is a happily-ever-after tale. Both revolve around men who have suffered great wrongs, who have essentially lost everything but their lives, and who are trying to change the world for the better before they die. Both are stories about setting things right.

My husband and I originally had a disagreement about the ending of the movie “Inception.” He thought the little top left spinning at the end was intentionally ambiguous, and he liked that ambiguity. I thought the fact that the top was beginning to wobble meant it would eventually fall. And I also said this was the “right” ending, because the other ending would not have been fair.  The main character had earned the right to the happy ending. (The filmmaker has since weighed in on the issue, and I was right.)

What about you? Where do you stand on truth, justice, and happy endings?

What’s in a name (a post-9/11-anniversary reflection)

 

Words

Words (Photo credit: sirwiseowl)

What’s in a name?

The word “liberal” is derived from the same root as the word “liberty.”

The word “conservative” comes from the same root as the word “conservation.”

“Democrat,” of course, is derived from “democracy,” meaning “rule by the people.” That’s using the Greek root “demos” for “the people.”

“Republican” is derived from “republic,” also meaning a form of government in which the ultimate authority rests with the people. It uses the Latin root for “the people,” as in the word “public.” (Those Romans loved to copy the Greeks.)

I don’t know. It seems to me we all started from the same place. And we’re not that different. So, what are we arguing about?  Why is there so much heat and so little light?  Why such a need to vilify the other side? To make it sound like, if they win, it will be the end of the world? (It won’t, you know, because we are the people, and we won’t let it happen.)

After 9/11, we saw a lot of the slogan, “united, we stand.”

You know how the other half of that goes…  Yeah, that’s right:

Divided, we fall.

I’m not talking about silencing dissent, here. We’re never all going to agree, and the day we stop speaking our minds, or stop being allowed to speak our minds, will be a dark day indeed. But with any freedom (of speech, for example) comes responsibility (to at least try to communicate, in this case).

There will always be differences of opinion in any large, diverse group of people. There will always be conflicting interests.  But we ought to be able to talk about these things – really talk about them, in clear, honest, practical terms.

The essence of government by the people should be that a group of elected representatives -representing all the conflicting interests – gets together to talk things out, honestly, respectfully, and in good faith.  And –yes- they have to be willing to compromise, if they’re ever going to be able to balance those conflicting interests. The idea that one side can “win” at the ballot box with 52% of the vote and thereby get everything its own way, ignoring whatever the other 48% wants, is as destructive as it is absurd. It pretty much guarantees that the other side is going to get mad, rally, and come back to “win” the next election and stick it right back to them. The U.S. government is not a football, guys. This isn’t a game.

Divided, we fall…

I really don’t want to think that I might be watching the “fall” of the United States of America, but I don’t like what I’m seeing (or hearing).  Has there ever been a time in our history when our political leaders were so rigidly and uncompromisingly divided?  As an advocate of clear communication, I am appalled by the dearth of civil discourse, the scarcity of honest efforts at persuasion, the stunning lack of simple, clear communication with respect to anything concerning politics in this country.

I, for one, am sick of it.

And, frankly, I’m a little bit scared.