A few months ago, while standing in a grocery store check-out line, I listened on as an older gentleman ranted loudly and at length to his unfortunate cashier, espousing his colorful version of world events and political preferences. I will say that I’m not the type of person to find these types of commentary offensive. Everybody has their respective opinions and – hopefully – reasons for having them. What I did find interesting, and incredibly rude, was that this gentleman thought it appropriate to speak his mind in a grocery store check-out line, where anyone within the adjacent five or six lines had no choice but to hear him.
It is fascinating how some choose to rationalize what most of us would consider poor behavior. These people truly believe, I think, they are somehow entirely correct in their opinion, and that the rest of us unfortunate, clueless souls are obligated to hear their rationale, thereby being saved from our own reckless thinking. My fascination and curiosity have driven me to question a few of these individuals, attempting to discover the source of their strong, often polarizing views. Thus far, I have walked away from each conversation with the realization that these individuals had only a superficial grasp of the data underlying the opinion they so adamantly hold.
What I find troubling in our society is the ever-increasing predominance of symbolism. We Americans have historically been a compassionate and generous people. But during this period of economic uncertainty I have seen an ugliness in certain sectors of the population, where in place of a willingness to engage in open, informed debate there is disdain and contempt for anyone not immediately in agreement with one’s predetermined views. These same people are also increasingly self-righteous, as though their opinion is preordained as the truth and fundamentally based upon “American values”.
The country’s Founding Fathers certainly believed that one of our civic duties was to diligently monitor those whom we elect to govern and represent us. This of course requires an educated and informed populace. When considering the time in history of the Founding Fathers, that they were essentially escaping the oppression of a ruling monarch and as such could be tried for treason, we today would be wise to take our civic duties to heart, do our research, and vote objectively with an awareness of political motives. It is not only okay to question, but also our fundamental duty as citizens.
Symbolism certainly has its place, but when misused has the ability to mask the acrid truth. Much like the effect of warm lights over bitter wine.