Friday, November 29, 2019

When you have to make a choice.

I loved the America I came to, back in 1994. I didn't love Clinton, president at that time. Of course, I didn't have a clue about American politics. In fact, I knew nothing about politics period. I cared nothing about politics. The only thing I knew about Clinton was that he was a lousy husband. I had experience there and so I didn't like him.

During the fall and winter of 1994 I lived in a big house on Lake Austin, house sitting, sort of like legal squatting. One day I answered the phone - yes a land line - and was asked by a disinterested voice if I considered myself to be a Democrat or a Republican. That was when I realized if I was going to be an American, I needed to pick sides, I needed to know what I believed in, I needed to understand what each party stood for, and what I stood for.

This was very disconcerting. First of all, as I said, I cared little or nothing about politics, secondly even less about US politics. From the day I turned 18, I voted because I believed in exercising a right that women fought for. But I pretty much followed the normal Irish family loyalties and didn't understand what I was voting for.

Here I was 'born again' in my second chance life. If I was to embrace my new American life, I needed to understand the political choices, even if there were only two - that in itself was strange to me.  Little did I know back then that everything in America is either black or white. And to the majority of those Americans with what used to be, hidden prejudice, if you were not white, you were black - or at the very least 'colored'.

So I answered the disinterested voice with "I have no idea, I will have to find out" and hung up.

I grew up in Ireland. And even by Irish standards I was a bit of a rebel. Also, I didn't yet understand that in America you don't talk about politics or religion unless you know who you are talking to, and if it is safe; though I am not sure that would have made any impression on me. I asked just about everyone I met if they could explain the difference between Democrat and Republican. Of course, I knew that I was going to get a response slanted towards the respondents personal choice and, like religion, they would try to convert me. One person I came across under relatively unusual circumstances, stands out in my memory because to this day I can't figure out what side he was on. Perhaps he was a libertarian? Maybe there are more than two choices? nah, not really.

The circumstance was a party at the lake house where I was house sitting, not my party, in fact I didn't even know it was planned. The couple who drove me down to Texas from Northern Michigan and decided to stay a while threw the party.  Kevin had just completed a rather long drug study - two weeks - the drug being studied was an anti depressant. There is a lot of money to be made doing drug studies and this allowed them to continue to live by the lake until their next adventure. Two weeks of possibly being on anti depressants fosters a camaraderie apparently, and the group of guinea pigs were loath to part ways and so gathered around the pool to continue to enjoy each other's company.  I had work the next day but as I couldn't sleep with all the noise I joined the party. This is where I continued my political survey.

One of the participants in the drug study, and my survey, took my question very seriously and responded at length. He carefully described the various policies and inclinations of both parties in an incredibly unbiased fashion. When I dug deeper with specific questions he responded to these in the same way. My experience since has been that this young man must be the only person in America who can remain so objective when discussing politics. In fact, he was so objective I was still unsure of where I stood. But, what he did give me was an education and a starting point from which I could then observe and continue to learn and finally decide.

What decided me was watching the way people behaved and reacted to each other, to tragedy and to triumph; and eventually exposing their inner prejudices, or lack thereof. More importantly, how they responded based on those prejudices. Because of course we are all products of our upbringing, we all inherit prejudices we don't even know we have. But it is how we deal with them, how we respond to one another when it really counts, that is what decides who and what you really are. And that is what helped me to decide which side I was going to come down on the next time I got a phone call asking what my political leaning is because, at that stage I was not in a position to vote; that came later, now that I have the right to vote I use it, I just wish more Americans did too.

My choice is empathy.

My choice is kindness

My choice is tolerance.

I am still working on the latter, sometimes it is not easy, particularly when coming up against someone with no understanding of all three.

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