Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Yes, and


I've been thinking about the lines we draw, about how we decide where to draw them and when to cross them and when to erase them. I suppose this has come up in response to the news, when I think about Romney deciding whether or not to accept the position of Secretary of State, if it's offered to him.

I'm glad I don't have to make that decision. When is it better to be stand up for what you believe to be of the utmost importance? When is it better to compromise your belief, in the hope that your presence, your compromise, could bring necessary improvements to the situation in which you find yourself?

Life and decisions seem blurred these days. I've noticed that sometimes when people are asked about their dietary restrictions, they blur the line between foods they can't eat (to which they are allergic) and foods they just don't much care for. Or they announce they hate a food (or even a whole class of food, like soup or cake), when perhaps they really mean it's not the food they like best.

When I was little, you reserved the word "hate" for foods that had suspect textures or bitter tastes, which just might make you gag.

I'm thinking that using language more precisely will be helpful in the days ahead.

I'm also thinking that reframing how we think may be necessary. I just read Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections)  by Stephen Prothero. Talking about the current division here, he calls for the need to turn culture wars into culture debates. "Americans have traditionally affirmed both the Federalist's beloved order and the Jeffersonians' beloved liberty. Their values have included both life and choice" (emphasis his).

Or in Citizen, an American Lyric, Claudia Rankine writes about discussing the merits of sentences constructed with "yes, and" rather than "yes, but." She and her friend decide that the "yes, and" sentences "Attest to  life with no turn-off, no alternative routes."

This brought me up short, I've been thinking that saying and thinking "yes, and," instead of "yes, but" will help us move from wars to debate, from talking to hearing.

But clearly we also need to be thinking and saying, "yes, but." How do we decide which to say when? Again, precise language will be important in the days ahead.

I was just in California to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. My sister loaded me up with two huge bags of persimmons, which are sitting in a bowl on the table. I realize that many people hate persimmons. Their texture can be suspect. If you eat them before they're ready, the tannin will make you pucker. But surely everyone must think they're beautiful.



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