Sunday, November 3, 2013

A paradigm shift

New paradigmI used to hate that phrase when I heard it in meetings at the lab, but it seems that I have experienced a bona fide paradigm shift of my own.

Or maybe it was more of a two-by-four upside the head.

Either way, it was quite an epiphany. Settle back, because this is going to be a long one (that’s what she said). Okay, I’ll stop with the dick jokes. This is important…at least to me!

I wrote last week about our fun vacation in New Orleans, and one of the funnest things was seeing a band called the Daywalkers. They have a Facebook page up now, so go check it out and like I always say, show the band some love! We were cruising down Bourbon and heard some unmistakable washboard playing. It was Alex, who we had seen a couple of other times when we were in NOLA, but with another band. Turns out that he’s in a new band, the Daywalkers, and they are even more fun and talented than his previous band, at least in my opinion. A better mix of music, lots of great energy, and some harmonizing that makes your heart take wing. Shut up! I can be eloquent sometimes!

Anyway, I kind of took a shine to the guitarist. I wrote about Jason previously, about how he was really nice and sweet, and invited us out to his other gig one night. You know how you sometimes just feel like someone is kind of cool and would probably be an interesting person to know? That was the vibe I got. I can’t explain it, but sometimes you just dig a person.

So after seeing the band a few times and chatting with Jason a bit and having him tell me that he was on Facebook, I found him there and sent a friend request. He accepted fairly quickly, and I looked at his profile. Turned out he is pretty conservative. He’s from Texas, so I should have guessed that, but for some reason, I didn’t.

Here’s where my epiphany comes in. I went through this thought process:
  1. Oh man...I’m a liberal, and he’s really conservative. He’s not going to like me anymore!
  2. Wow...can I really be friends with someone who is so conservative?
  3. Holy shit...did I just wonder if I could be friends with someone—this cool and nice guy who is a fantastic musician—just because he’s a conservative, and I’m a liberal? That is fucked up.
It was like someone tossed a glass of cold water in my face. I felt ashamed of myself. Was I so far gone that it would even occur to me that I might not be able to be friends with someone because he is conservative? Was I such an asshole that I would think so little of HIM that I would assume he wouldn’t like me because I'm a liberal? To be somewhat easier on myself, it wasn’t so much that I was thinking he might think that was just that I’ve been burned that way before when a relative defriended and blocked me because of my opinions. That hurt me deeply, and I was afraid that was going to happen again.

My fears were unwarranted. The next time we saw them play, he gave me a grin from onstage, and when they took a break, he came over to say hi, and shook Ken’s hand and gave me a hug. I said, “Thank you for still liking me even though I’m a crazy little liberal!” He shook his head and said, “Nah. You’re not a liberal.” I laughed and said, “I really kind of am.” He said, “You guys own a pickup?” I said actually, yeah, we do. He said, “Then you’re not a liberal.” After a brief discussion of guns, in which I said it might make him feel better to know that I’m a responsible gun owner, he said, “You own a gun? You’re not a liberal.” He was cracking me up, but he was just so matter-of-fact about it, it seemed like it was no big deal to him, and I felt even more ashamed of myself for doubting him and for being so unfair that I had actually wondered for a brief moment if we could really be friends.

The thought occurred to me that my Dad would have loved this guy and would have immediately started talking to him about guns. My Dad was a super conservative guy, and we didn’t always agree about stuff, but we could have civil discussions about it. I loved him completely and with no reservations, so how the hell did I get to the point where I would actually wonder—even if only for a split second—if I could be friends with a conservative? What happened to me? I thought of my cousin Curt, who is also a conservative, but was my protector when we were at Ball State, and with whom I have always been able to have great philosophical and political discussions. We met up with him and his wife a while back and we once again found many things on which we had common ground. My brother-in-law Tom is a conservative, but we are also able to discuss these things, and at the end of the day, I still love him like my own brother, and I’m reasonably certain he still loves me.

It was a real eye opener. I pondered this quite a while, and I resolved to make a change. I can’t change others, but I can change myself. I realized that while those of us on the left may talk about the “conservative bubble,” in which opinions are confirmed and reinforced by what people read and watch, on the left we have our own bubble. It is a closed loop of confirmation bias. Granted, I don’t think our bubble is quite as impenetrable as the conservative bubble, but it is definitely still there. I don’t watch FoxNews, but I also stopped watching MSNBC quite some time ago. I will probably upset a lot of my liberal friends by saying that I don’t even watch Rachel Maddow!

My viewpoints aren’t changing. But I hereby resolve to raise the bar when it comes to discourse. I was always able to have such discussions with my Dad, I can have them with Curt, I can have them with Tom, and I hope to have some fun and interesting discussions with Jason not about politics, but about music. As I told him, if we can’t come together over music, what CAN we come together over? Music is sacred to me, and I still feel horribly ashamed of myself for even thinking that we might not be able to be friends because of our political differences. Seriously. Shame on me.

The ad hominem attacks from me stop. I will still disagree with people on issues, and I will point out something I feel is wrong, but when we slap labels on ourselves and on others, it is far too easy to demonize and vilify them. Meeting Jason was an important reminder to me of something that I’d managed to forget: there are real people behind the labels, and sometimes they are cool and interesting people who it would be a pleasure to know. To automatically exclude some people is to cut yourself off from what might be a very enjoyable experience and friendship. As my wonderful friend Lisa pointed out, if someone doesn’t like you because you’re a liberal (or a conservative), isn’t that pretty much the same thing as saying they don’t like you because you’re black? An excellent point.

When everyone is shouting, no one is listening. It might make me feel better to go off on a political rant and attack a politician I don’t like, but what purpose does that serve? Conservatives aren’t reading it, and if they do, they’re going to be turned off by my rhetoric and not pay attention to my point. If I rant about something, I’m just preaching to a liberal choir. I still remember those Palin fans attacking me on Twitter and basically calling me a pot-smoking whore who never did an honest day’s work in her life. How is that accomplishing anything? How did that bring me over to their side? It didn’t. It just made me think they were rabid dogs who enjoy calling people names. I’m not going to be that person. Not anymore. I refuse to participate in that sort of behavior. I refuse to even entertain the notion that I might not be able to be friends with someone because of their political leanings. That being said, neo-Nazis and KKK people can kiss my sweet ass. There are limits to my new style!

So that was my epiphany. I don’t mean to sound melodramatic, but this is kind of a game changer for me. I’m still rather amazed that it came about because of a Texan playing guitar in a Bourbon Street bar. That’s actually kind of cool, though, isn’t it? If you’re going to have an epiphany and change your ways, having it happen because of a Texan guitarist on Bourbon Street is a pretty damn cool way to do it. Hell yeah.

This is also a reminder to me that we can affect people in ways we might never imagine. Jason has no idea that I’ve been thinking all this stuff, but I hope to tell him about it. Words and actions can have an impact. Just a simple act of friendship made me completely rethink my behavior and my own words. How amazing is that? Doesn’t it make you wonder how you affect people that you encounter, even if it’s only a brief encounter? Maybe something as simple as a smile at someone when they’re having a bad day can make a difference in their life. This has made me resolve to always do my best to be a positive influence and a kind person, and to make people feel better for having met me. I know I won’t always succeed, but it is something to strive for.

I hope Jason and I will be friends going forward. Even if that doesn’t happen, I will always be grateful to him and will always remember him for helping me to realize this about myself, even if he has no idea what he did! Thank you, Jason. You’re a peach! *mwah* And I would be happy to call you my friend. I hope you will want to say the same about me.

You all can still expect me to have my opinions, but you might see a kinder, gentler Beth. Just don’t piss me off, okay? Then all bets are off. Ha!


  1. Well! I thoroughly enjoyed this post. Stop being so hard on yourself, though. There are those, on both sides, who would not have taken the situation as a chance to do a little self-evaluating and self-adjusting, but you did. We should all continue to mature and make adjustments when we see the need, in all areas of our lives, and we can do this without compromising our beliefs. People aren't always just one way or the other, and sometimes when we meet someone who seems to lean very far in one direction or the other, there are some very good reasons for it; experiences that have colored their judgment or their environment while growing up, for example. There are times in our lives when we may not be capable of understanding something or looking at a situation reasonably, but that doesn't mean we won't grow to be able to do so. I have to remind myself of this sometimes, to make myself give someone a chance to be more than I think I see on the surface. Enjoy your new friendship! (And no, I didn't fall out of my chair when I realized you were going to be friends with a {{whispers}} conservative!!)

  2. We've already discussed this but it was a joy to read the details in your entry. I did like your disclaimer though in the last sentence. That's my girl!!!

  3. I agree with Lori... you should not be that hard on yourself... it is precisely that kind of introspection that true diehards who live in their respective bubbles rarely consider... Sometimes, when I learn of someone's socio-political beliefs and I don't necessarily share them, I take a deep breath, step back, and plunge into the relationship anyway..! I figure if we are cool enough to talk about the great defense of Michigan State, then we should be cool enough to talk about most anything else, even if we have some fundamental differences..!

    That is how I have seen you... only you are quite passionate about your politics... you never want to lose that, but know that it doesn't come from parroting whatever pinko-liberal message, but from your own sense of what you believe...

  4. I get it, it has been my philosophy for a while...


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