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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

Being Right

Contention has become commonplace in our lives. Amplified by social media and media in general, there is nothing sacred, nothing beyond debate, and little that enjoys respectful disagreement. Everything is posited in stark terms, warnings of dire consequences, and intensely personal vilification. It is difficult to escape the barrage of negativity and frightening to think about the consequences for our children to be exposed to such a toxic environment. Yet, it is all too common to see parents boast of their reflected vitriol in the statements and behavior of their offspring.

While I may have a tendency to recall my childhood through a positive filter, I do not recall experiencing a polar, disrespectful and antagonistic world. To be sure, I was not sheltered, and growing up in an urban setting I was exposed to people from every walk of life, of every means and perspective. Yes, I was aware of the beliefs my parents held with regard to such things as politics, religion, and social standing—but I never felt that I was required to embrace those views. In fact, I was curious about the differences in what our family thought and did and others' beliefs and wanted to walk in the shoes of kids my age who embraced different orientations.

We were not a very religious family, a mix of non-practicing Christians and Jews . I knew little about either as a kid so went to church with a Catholic friend and Passover at the home of another. I felt a little like an anthropologist visiting a foreign culture. Everything was mysterious and that led to dozens of questions none of which caused me to want to embrace any specific faith but inclined me to a sense of spirituality in a vague way that endured until my young adulthood. It was the same with race. We understood that we were white and other kids were black or some other skin color, felt bad for those kids in China that were starving but not inclined to eat the fried liver and so-called Spanish rice that our mother –a notoriously bad cook—served for dinner. We played together, took note that our parents were cautious around one another but never felt animosity or even cared much about a distinction based on skin color, social standing or any other difference. Unless taught otherwise, kids are far more accepting than their parents.

My mother was politically inclined while my dad was passive about politics in general. He was all about the individual, a trait I suspect he inherited from his mother, an immigrant raised in a convent in the Carpathian mountains and born to parents of Czech and Hungarian descent. She was by all accounts a firebrand and named my dad Eugene in honor of Eugene V. Debs. How she came to embrace her political views I do not know. Only one of her children, my Aunt Norma ever showed any inclination to echo her stance but again, no adult felt the need or intention to impose their political slant on any of their kids. As a result, politics for us was about the individual and centered on a broad sense of moral right.

I am struck that today a sense of moral right has been transformed into the sense of political right. The notion of a universal humanity that transcends politics has all but disappeared. Everything is presented in the context of a binary division with one’s own party or views representing what is right, and the opposition wrong. Specific issues are reduced in an instant to party affiliation never the merits or facts of any issue. The imperative to be right which is a very human trait, has morphed into being a Democrat or Republican a left or right leaning sympathizer. For the record, I am both or neither and certainly not any splinter designation. I simply do not care for either party although I have worked for candidates from both at one point in my life.

I write this not to suggest any superior stance or moral correctness—far from it. Rather I am, as I believe many of you also may be, saddened and dismayed at the way in which we humans have devolved. Growing up in the wake of WW II, amidst the shock and social displacement that was revealed, and feeling the weight of making our way with responsibility to correct the ills of the past I felt a kinship with almost everyone I met as a young man. For a brief time, we shared a common sense of doing right—not being right, but acting in concert to change and improve our world. It is a sentiment I have not felt in quite a while and one I think is at the heart of our dilemma.

I am reminded of a quip a dear friend made during a particularly angry public meeting where people were literally shaking fists and demanding answers of leaders they believed were disingenuous and acting against their interests. He said, “ We are all in the same lifeboats, but some people are bailing water out of the boats, some are bailing it right back in, and some are looking at each other sizing up who would be good to eat.” It is a grim view to be sure but an honest appraisal of the world we have created.

Being right is not about being correct, not about being a member of this or that party, not about being white, black, or any other race or religion, certainly not about our sexual orientation, or any other difference. Being right should not even be our goal but doing right—treating others with genuine respect and empathy, should be our first and only response. I do not know if we can fix the world we’ve made, it’s a job too big for anyone. But we can live our lives the way we once did, however briefly, with the innocence of children before they are taught to fear and hate the manufactured differences that divide us.

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