losing (the) balance (of fairness)

When in Washington, DC, I almost never drive. In and around my Capitol Hill church and office, I can walk nearly everywhere. When having to go farther afield, I usually use the Metro subway system.

In Spartanburg, SC, I need a car to get anywhere, for nothing is close on foot (unless I was a marathoner, which I’m not!).

As a devotee of my Uncle Randol’s counsel – “If I only read things that agree with my views how can I learn anything else?” – when riding about I oft listen to the local conservative news radio station.

This past Thursday, a commentator played a snippet of a Hillary Rodham Clinton address during which she focused on the early August shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the ensuing racially-charged protests and violence. Noting that it was the fifty-first anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, Clinton, aiming at the societal issues underneath the tragedy, said, “We can’t ignore the inequities (faced by African Americans) that persist in our justice system,” urging all Americans to continue to labor to bring alive King’s dream.

For a moment, the commentator fell silent. Then, with an incredulous tone, he characterized Clinton’s message as bland, guffawing at the prospects of “eight years of speeches like this” should the sad prospect of a “HRC presidential election and re-election come to pass.” Further, he wondered why Clinton and the great body of “liberal others” did not challenge “the ills within the (meaning, black) culture”, citing the “symptoms” of high percentages of single parent families, the absence of father/male figures in the lives of young black men, and the dropout rates among school-aged black children.

I believe that I understand that every element of the media – newspapers and websites, reporters and commentators, pundits and op-ed writers – has a slant, a perspective, one that generally falls somewhere on the conservative-liberal continuum, and that there is an audience for each point on that scale, and that it pays (figuratively and literally) to play to one’s audience.

However, this life in this world is bountifully complex – always and in all things. For this commentator (or for anyone) to speak of “the ills within (any) culture” with little apparent and no announced awareness of the undeniable impact on the individual (whether culture or person) of the always wider world of systemic forces of nature and nurture, function and dysfunction demonstrated to me an absence of balance, a loss of fairness, and more, an ignorance that grated on my ears and vexed my soul.unbalanced stones

My reaction was immediate and visceral. As tolerant as I can be (as I am) of counter points of view, I turned the radio off.


a 16-word life’s lesson

My godfather, Elwood Randol, was a raconteur. Erudite and possessed of a playfully sardonic spirit.

As a child, I was an inveterate questioner, oft, doubtless annoyingly to others, about the obvious. One day, I walked down our street (the Randols and Abernathys lived only a few houses apart) and espied Uncle Randol (that’s what I called him, for he was a close as a blood relation) washing his car. “What are you doing?” Without looking up, he smiled slightly and, with even voice, replied, “Playing bridge.”

Uncle Randol, among many things, wrote a weekly column for one of the local newspapers. Entitled, “It Seems To Me”, he would share his observations on current news. One day, noticing that he, a redoubtable liberal, read publications of decidedly conservative slants, I asked him why. Turning to me, his tone serious, he said, “If I only read things that agree with my views how can I learn anything else?”

I’ve never forgotten my Uncle Randol’s lesson. I still hear his voice and his stress on the word can. To this day, I research widely, often with especial focus on points of view that challenge, even contradict my own. I then reflect, wrestle with what I’ve read, at times, internalizing the argument, my inner voices raised in point and counterpoint.

This is rarely, if ever a comforting thing to do. Quite like walking a tightrope, particularly in moments when I’ve felt that I understand (and find myself standing between) competing positions of people in conflict. Nevertheless, I’ve found it a beneficial way to be. For me, it’s all about the balance of fairness.

tightrope walker5