From an early age of my twenties, in the political arena, I have had to grapple with the notion that many people think differently than I do about a given set of facts. When you are younger, every issue is either black or white. There are no gray areas. It is the certainty of the young, the uninformed or the fanatical that drive the singularity of partisanship in the political arena.
At that young age, I could not, for the life of me, understand why “the opposition” was challenging us on any given issue. Were they stupid? Did their mother drop them on their head when they were young, causing a learning and perceptual dysfunction? It must be, I thought. We could all see the same set of facts and yet they came to a different conclusion than we did. Or maybe, they were just being recalcitrant and obstructionist. There had to be an explanation.
As I grew older, and experience exposed me to more diverse geographical, racial, religious and other groups, I spent more time among many who thought differently than I did. I began to realize that the differences in opinions, and positions on matters of the day, were indeed both perceptual and legitimate.
We, all of us sentient beings, perceive our surroundings with differing filters. The filter may be one of age, race, religion, sexual orientation, geography, education,gender career or economic circumstances. Like most human beings, we tend to favors sets of circumstances that favor our particular set of needs. That makes sense. No one favors a poke in the eye, with a sharp stick, if they don’t have to receive it.
The idea of these sets of filters helped explain for me why people indeed see the same sets of circumstances in differing ways. I am mindful of the fable, of six sight-challenged people, touching differing areas of an elephant. One held the tail, the other the tusk and so on. Later, when asked to describe what an “elephant is,” they responded in kind, describing what their senses had experienced. Naturally, you get six widely different descriptions of what “an elephant is.”
The notion of these perceptual filters made me a much more tolerant person in the political arena. I now understood that the “loyal opposition” wasn’t collectively dropped on their head when they were children. Because of a variety of filters, they indeed saw the issues of the day differently than I did. Given this revelation, it became more natural for me to assume legitimacy for the claims of others. The next step of course became how do we recognize the differing filters and come up with a solution to a problem that works for most of us.
The process, as one wag describe it, is not a pretty one. “Log rolling,” “special interests," “constituent need” and a score of other “filters” always color our legislative process. As faulty as the American Legislative Process appears sometimes, it functions as one of the more equitable political processes on the planet. Cumbersome, filled with oratory and other built in faults, it has still managed to work for a few hundred years in creating an admirable republic that not only looks out for its own, but helps others around the globe because it is the right thing to do.
Given the toxic environs of today’s political climate in America, it might behoove us all to remember the notion of “Filters.” Everyone sees the elephant in a different way. And in a democracy, we have to figure out what shape the elephant (or Donkey) will take, that will best serve the needs of us all. And, as the French say, “Vive le difference ! “
( 648 words)
Joseph Xavier Martin