By Tim Hayes [www.timhayesconsulting.com]
Brilliant sunshine almost immediately turned into one of the most wicked whiteouts experienced in my long highway driving history this weekend. While en route to upstate New York on an end-of-college-break trip, I saw the dense cloud of blowing snow quickly envelop the car, making it nearly impossible to see anything but the next 30 feet of concrete at any one time.
The lone source of direction came from the single vehicle ahead, the driver of which had the presence of mind to turn on the blinkers. Those flashing red lights provided a lodestar to follow for about 20 high-stress miles until the weather broke and we again could travel in sunlit ease.
When caught inside one of those blizzards, it’s disorienting, confusing, and frightening. It’s tough to get one’s bearings. Nothing makes sense as you search for something reliable on which to grasp. Adrenaline surges, panic rises, judgment suffers. You’d give anything for a dependable way forward, a sure way out.
The sensory effect of a winter whiteout provides a suitable metaphor for political rhetoric, as well. For the past 20 years, perhaps even longer, the national debate has not been much of a true debate at all. It’s been more like a food fight between people on either extreme of the political spectrum. No one’s listening, yet everyone’s talking. No one’s thinking, yet everyone has an opinion they can’t wait to share.
It’s like a swirling cloud of noise that does little but disorient those who would like to actually sample the collection of ideas, consider them intellectually, and arrive at a well-reasoned decision. As a professional speechwriter, I think those in positions like mine can and should help bring this culture change about whenever possible.
This blizzard of rhetoric does little to advance the shared interests of Americans. Instead, it leads to a swinging pendulum with each national election – left-wing leaders win big one time, right-wing leaders win big the next time, and the pendulum never seems to take a rest somewhere near the middle. The blizzard of rhetoric may also influence the less rational among us to take matters into their own hands. This weekend’s sad and tragic shootings in Arizona, aimed at a member of Congress who thankfully survived, but that left six innocent people dead, may yet turn out to be an example of how the rabid national political dialogue can influence irrational individuals.
When the whiteout whipped up and swallowed my car, the blinking lights on the vehicle ahead provided a guidepost to follow. Disorientation at 65 miles an hour has a wonderful way of focusing the mind. Similarly, the violence in Arizona this weekend may serve as a new guidepost – an opportunity to bring the political rhetorical boil down to a more manageable, a more civil, and a more genuinely American simmer.
You can’t help but hear the cacophony of voices shouting at each other every day in Washington and in our state capitals. But can’t we start listening instead? We’re better people, we’re a better nation than what we’ve allowed ourselves to become. Disagreement? Yes. Debate? Good. Distillation of information to make rational decisions that benefit people the best way possible? Let’s hope so.
The blizzard’s gone on long enough. It’s high time we broke back into the sunshine of respectful debate and shared perspectives to solve our political problems.
Copyright 2011 Transverse Park Productions LLC