Everyone has a friend Joe. He’s the guy who has a multitude of opinions – an opinion on seemingly every subject, as a matter of fact. Not only does he have lots of opinions, but as I said, he is certain of his opinions, and he is certain that he is right.
Unfortunately, that means that everyone else who dares to disagree with him is wrong. Although I’m sure I would love talking to Joe about a few, less-certain matters of the universe (say, death or taxes, perhaps), I have learned to avoid talking to him at gatherings, especially if anyone within earshot mentions anything about immigration, abortion, gun control, the current presidential election, or who has the best pizza within a 100 mile radius.
Wherever Joe goes, he takes his opinions, rigidness and inflexibility with him. If you are traveling with Joe and trying to get from Point A to Point B, his way is not the best way, it is the only way. If, in this example, you don’t go Joe’s way and it turns out to be a perfectly reasonable means of getting to point B, nothing you can say or do will convince him of it.
In fact, if Joe hasn’t already exited the vehicle, backtracked several miles and hailed a taxi cab in an effort to pursue his predetermined route, he will happily list all the reasons why your way was wrong, completely ignoring any obvious evidence to the contrary. Wherever Joe goes, he takes with him disruption, contention and, dare I say, tyranny.
I’m not sure if I’m the only one bothered by Joe’s expressions of opinion, but sometimes it feels that way. In fact, most people seem to agree with Joe and consider him a reliable source of information (not opinion), probably because he speaks with such authority on seemingly every subject ever known to man.
I come from a family – a family that has changed and grown in number over the years – that openly accepts, enjoys and values the diversity that naturally exists among us. Our diversity creates an environment where we learn from each other. In an honest, respectful and open exchange of opinions, we learn truths. We become better people. So it goes with our country and the world.
The Joes of the world are the demagogues. They are the ones who squash dialogue and create totalitarian governments.
Our country was founded on principles that fight against such inflexibility and tyranny. It was founded upon acceptance and principles of tolerance. New York Times author Roger Cohen in a recent article suggests that our country works best when it respects these foundational and fundamental principles.
“Liberty (and other foundational principles) … demands acceptance of our human differences and the ability to mediate them through democratic institutions. It demands acceptance of multiple, perhaps incompatible truths,” he wrote.
He goes on to say that in the present condition of our country, “in an age of declamation and shouting, of polarization and vilification” (the conditions wrought by the Joes of our world) we have invited the current menacing political environment which is unhealthy and destructive.
I am well aware that my family is probably not qualified to teach life lessons on most subjects (especially, perhaps, political consulting and theory), but I am confident that there are no Joes among them. Because of this, they are honest, respectful (even while conversing with Joe), great listeners and keen problem solvers. They constantly take in new information and learn from it, even if that information appears to conflict with previously held opinions or beliefs.
I am also confident that my family’s way of thinking is consistent with that of this country’s founders, who were, again, trying to escape inflexibility and tyranny. In fact, were Joe and I to have that earlier-referenced discussion on the certainties of death and taxes, it would most assuredly come up that the quote is usually attributed to Benjamin Franklin, who was, himself, a learner, a listener and someone who understood that we live in a world with many shades of grey.
That is, unless Joe says it was Donald Trump, then obviously the quote came from Donald Trump and don’t you dare try to convince him, or the group of people surrounding him, otherwise.