Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Agreeing To Disagree Not Disagreeing To The Death

Today, I participated in a "Capacity Review" for the Oklahoma State Department of Education. May I say first, BOY WAS I HAPPY TO BE ASKED! I'm no prognosticator - I can't see ahead to the end of Supt. Hofmeister's term - but I can tell you that as of now, I'm impressed. It feels so good just to be ASKED for input and not stiff-armed or walked out on, or indirectly called a liar. Going into her new position, it is at least apparent that Mrs. Hofmeister understands the rule, "You get more flies with honey than vinegar". She may not hear or take into consideration a word we said, but again, just indicating interest salves a lot of wounds!

The meeting of the group in which I was placed (I assume we were the 'parent' group) was this morning at 8:00am. Other than having to leave the kids Home Alone (insert face of Macaulay Culkin here!) from 7:30am to 10:00am, it was no trouble and the facilitator shepherded the meeting diligently, allowing the seven of us to be excused in just about an hour.

Our group contained representatives from PTA, Oklahoma Central PLAC, Stand For Children, VOICE, Oklahoma Parents/Educators for Public Education and a Sand Springs Teacher also coordinator of Parents and Teachers. Several of these groups clashed with ROPE over Common Core last year and others have been frustrated by our support for Education Savings Accounts/school choice this year. Consequently, I have to admit once the group assembled, I began to hear the Sesame Street classic, "One Of These Things Is Not Like The Others" playing in my head while I wondered how and where the conversation would go.

In the end, I appreciated hearing what others had to say in response to the questions posed by the facilitator, and agreed with a number of the opinions provided. In fact, I re-learned a valuable lesson; oftentimes people have more in common than not, it's finding common ground that's often hard.

Sadly, finding common ground has been made more difficult in just the last decade due to many factors culminating in political polarity unseen since possibly the sixties and the Vietnam War. Today, Americans at large seem to believe that even the slightest disagreement should be handled as Gladiators fighting to the death in the Colosseum. In fact, numerous research and articles such as, "Torn Apart: 11 Charts That Show How Americans Are More Divided, Partisan, And Ideological Than Ever Before" by Business Insider, recount this nationwide trend.

There also appears to be a general degradation of basic social skills I blame in large part on social media. In the 'old days' of my youth, until the dawn of 'texting' and email, we'd actually call people on the phone or meet face to face to discuss possibly divisive issues. Voice to ear, or face to face, it's much harder to launch into an emotion-filled, intellectually-deflated tirade, than when you let your fingers do the walking across an impersonal keyboard to a 'send' button.

I've found myself on the receiving end of unpleasant remarks from time to time over politics and opinion. Though I don't enjoy it, I attempt not to go tit-for-tat because I'm a mouth - I freely (and frequently) state my opinion - so it seems fair that if someone somewhere doesn't agree, that person has the same right as I to their own view. It seems at cross purposes to return unpleasantries with someone for their opinion when taking that path will inevitably lead to a dead end. Writing something akin to "Your mother wears combat boots" in all caps in a social media forum - or even within the confines of an email - does nothing but alienate the person on the receiving end, effectively shutting down discussion that could lead to some kind of common understanding on some level.

Everyone who reads this blog knows I self-identify as Conservative. I've very little patience for big government/bureaucratic solutions to any situation that can't be addressed on some level through personal control and/or a non-profit organization. When I first awakened politically, I considered anyone with a "D" after their name on their voter registration, the "enemy". Then I found Pat Caddell. Then I found Dr. John Thompson. Then I began to digest the fact that people are people, not the sum total of their political thought.

I remember meeting Dr. Thompson outside the Committee room at the Capitol where anti-Common Core activists/teachers/parents were testifying against the standards in 2013. He walked over to me and introduced himself as a "liberal Democrat who doesn't like Common Core". I was still in political 'stiff arm' mode with those on the 'other side of the fence' so it took me some time to find listening mode on my hearing aid, but once I did, I realized a number of things: 1. He was a really nice guy 2. He was incredibly knowledgeable about a number of issues and I gained new perspective listening to him 3. We had more things in common than I would have ever thought before actually TALKING to him, and 4. When we don't agree, I think we can do so civilly with the idea we don't dislike each other personally, we just don't agree on a specific issue.

The only cure for my deeply-rooted small government/social values bend will be the shaking off of my mortal coil. I'm not going to suddenly adopt a different internal compass to agree with someone on a point with which I simply can't agree philosophically. That doesn't mean I'm unwilling to find common ground where I can with others who don't share my political/social values.

To conclude our meeting today, our facilitator asked what we could do to support the Department of Ed - how we could support the new Superintendent. I think I voiced the notion that I would when I could and I wouldn't when I couldn't, but that was okay. Disagreeing doesn't mean I 'hate' the Department or the Superintendent, it simply means I don't agree. I also pointed out that most of us in the room wouldn't agree on a number of issues, but that debate was healthy and fostering civil discussion opened doors to understanding. It does. We just need to be sure we're agreeing to disagree, not disagreeing to the death.