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Neither scoundrel nor fool

Monday, 24. September 2012
Author: 

Randy RuffinMy husband and I were delighted by the relief from American politics that a few weeks in Australia in July-August brought us, but now election season is upon us in earnest, and we are all inundated with political ads, half truths, accusations and counter-accusations. How is one – how am I - to navigate the next few weeks leading up to November 6 with balance, sanity and a peaceful heart? 

To be engaged in politics is a civic duty. It is important for each of us to read up on the issues of concern to us and our nation – among them the war in Afghanistan, the conflict in Syria, and Iran with its nuclear ambitions; our need for energy balanced against the need to preserve environment and mitigate climate change; the economy, financial sector and jobs; education and infrastructure; guns, human sexuality, etc. etc.; and, looming over all of this – the rights of the individual balanced against the needs of the wider community, and the role of the private sector vs. that of government.

We each of us have our own leanings, or perhaps even strong opinions – but do we expose ourselves to views different from those we tend to hold? Do we read publications that offer both progressive and conservative views? Do we watch TV shows, or listen to radio programs that offer balancing views, or views that are different from ours? Do we know when to turn off voices which are merely partisan and angry, and do we take political advertising with several grains of salt, or perhaps even protest the role of PACS and “outside” money in our local politics? I was heartened to hear that Sen. Scott Brown and his opponent, Elizabeth Warren, have reached an agreement to limit the role of outside money buying advertising in their campaigns.

I have to confess to having my own definite leanings – I am a registered Democrat and I intend to do some campaigning for our President and for the Democratic candidate for the Senate in Virginia – but I don’t buy everything that my party puts forward, and I do try to listen to and read thoughtful conservative views. I’m a great fan of David Brooks, and value his good sense and moderation, and I also read or listen to other conservative voices, Michael Gerson among them, with some frequency. Public TV’s News Hour always presents opposing views, which I appreciate.

A good friend has just sent me the obituary of columnist William Raspberry, who died while we were in Australia, and I think that two passages quoted from a speech he gave at the University of Virginia in 2006 are good messages for us to carry with us in the coming weeks. One important lesson he had learned in his career, he said, was “that in virtually every public controversy, most thoughtful people secretly believe both sides.” Perhaps if more of us were prepared to acknowledge the validity of certain views held by “the other side” it would go a long way towards healing the deep political divides that are virtually paralyzing our country and would enable us to reach some agreements.

Raspberry says that the second lesson, 'which has kept my confidence from turning into arrogance, is that it is entirely possible for you to disagree with me without being, on that account, either a scoundrel, or a fool.' Living as we do, in a conservative part of Virginia, where we have neighbors, fellow churchgoers and friends who are of conservative persuasion, I know that many of them would disagree with my views, and I also know that they are neither scoundrels nor fools!! I hope that they might feel that same way about me!

Randy Ruffin is Chair of the Caux Scholars Program. After 27 years actively engaged with the work of Initiatives of Change in Washington, DC, she has moved with her husband to a more rural part of Virginia.

NOTE: Individuals of many cultures, nationalities, religions, and beliefs are actively involved with Initiatives of Change. These commentaries represent the views of the writer and not necessarily those of Initiatives of Change as a whole.