“I know in my heart that man is good. That what is right will always eventually triumph. And that there’s purpose and worth to each and every life.”
I was an awkward kid; red hair, freckles, big for my age, and, having grown up with 5 older brothers, lacking the basic feminine social skills required to get along in life. It has taken me a very long time to accept myself, the whole me, not the piecemeal self of “pretty eyes,” “good artist,” or “skilled teacher.” That process has not been easy, but along with it has come an acceptance, even a love, of my fellow travelers through the arduous expedition of life.
I walked in a town festival parade earlier today with the local Republican organization. Directly before us was stationed the Teacher’s Union contingent, their black t-shirts and green and black signs contrasting clumsily with our red, white, and blue banners and regalia. The teacher’s union doesn’t ordinarily walk in parades but there is currently a ballot measure in which the school district is asking voters to raise taxes, yet again, to close the budget gaps in our local schools. So the positioning within the parade was a little…awkward. I became the unofficial mediator between the two groups and I stationed myself at the front of the GOP posse as the singular buffer and common link between them.
Many of the teachers eyed us with contempt. Many of the Republicans eyed the teachers with suspicion.
And there was I, with friends and esteemed colleagues on both sides. There were admittedly a handful of radicals among the teachers; men and women who care more about politics than they do about students. But there were also a few dedicated and adept educators who truly care about their students and who work hard in their profession. I broke away from the Red Pachyderms momentarily to shake hands and rub shoulders with a couple of the teachers. They are my friends and I greeted them happily. One of the teachers was pushing his twin boys in a baby stroller, his wife walking at his side. Another teacher, who has often traded lighthearted barbs with me, got a hug. This teacher and I have a friendly history of teasing each other about our opposing ideologies. I avoided talking about the tax issues at hand, and simply extended my unconditional friendship to some fellow Americans.
I walked back to the group of Republicans, whom I love as friends and admire as leaders. And I expressed to them the genuine sentiment that we are not at war with individual teachers, but that as Conservatives we want to effect a change in the culture of public-sector expectations. The members of the Teacher’s Union marching in front of us were not so much the problem as the expectation imbued by the education culture, that they deserve early retirement, cushy pensions, and gold-plated benefits plans.
Teachers work hard, many of them in exceedingly difficult areas like special education. But they generally don’t labor any more intensively than the average private-sector employee. All of us who care work hard regardless of the vocation or profession. Why shouldn’t public sector employmers offer benefits and pensions similar to the private sector? Why should teachers expect to retire in their 50s, enjoy generous pensions, and pay little or nothing for their individual health-care and retirement plans? Should there be an expectation among teachers that they are taken care of for decades after their professional lives have concluded? “No” is the reasonable answer, and in the opinion of this public-sector teacher, that is where the culture of expectations has to change.
That being said, I had a larger message to convey to both my educator friends and my GOP troops. “We are not enemies.” We are all concerned that children receive a good education. Our philosophies on how to achieve that differ, but the differences are in the details of application. We are not alien species, nor adversaries. We are political competitors battling in an arena in which we all must live and mingle and share the future.
It has become my nature, through the painful processes of living, to see the best in most people. Mine is not a perfect skill, but suspicion is not my default attitude when I happen upon an ideological adversary. Within the milieu of American politics I work to discredit the progressive message, not to kill the progressive messenger. I would rather respect, befriend, persuade, and enlighten my adversaries. I may not bring them to the reasonable side of the argument, but I can be at peace knowing that I have been kind.
In the authentically conservative mind the crux of existence is our relationships. They are the essence of human happiness, and the impetus for human liberty. And they are the only thing, other than our personal qualities and knowledge, that we take with us into the next world.
I hope that the suspicion with which we regard one another will give way to understanding. We must be secure enough in our beliefs to accept those who disagree. We must feel secure in our own skills and knowledge that our debates do not give way to bitter acrimony. And we must feel safe in the knowledge that Right will prevail, it always has, and we need to stay worthy stewards of the position and title of “Right.”
by Marjorie Haun, 09/24/2011