Insulting the troops? Only if you’re not listening…

I’ve said it many times, and I’m sure I’ll say it again – to paraphrase George Carlin, I don’t have pet peeves anymore.  Those are for old women and advice columnists.  No.  Instead I have major psychotic hatreds.

My major psychotic hatred of the moment?  People who do not listen.  Or, to put it another way, people who do not listen properly.

It’s a problem that is afflicting our culture in a very serious way more and more every passing day.  If I had a dime for every time someone at work only half listened to what I’d said, forcing me to repeat myself far more times than makes any lick of sense I’d be able to build a full size reproduction of the Lincoln Memorial out of dimes in my backyard.  Most of the time our national listening problem only manifests itself in trivial annoyances – like me having to repeat myself a dozen times on some minor subject to my colleagues in the office – but on occasion it’s a real problem.

For example: the recent ugliness in the media related to [tag]John Kerry[/tag]’s alleged insult to the troops in Iraq.  Anyone who actually listened properly to the words Kerry said knows that he was not insulting the troops.  He was insulting [tag]Dubya[/tag], the Commander in Chimp.  He didn’t say that if you don’t do well in school you’ll end up a soldier stuck in [tag]Iraq[/tag], he said if you don’t pay attention and learn your lessons well you might get stuck in Iraq.

[tag]Keith Olberman[/tag] summed it up exceptionally well in his closing editorial on his show last week.  Have a look at this video clip – and really, watch the whole thing and listen carefully because there’s a lesson from history in there that we’d all be well, [tag]Republicans[/tag] and [tag]Democrats[/tag], to heed about civility and respect.

Now I’m not accusing the Republicans of not listening to John Kerry.  They heard him fine.  But they also knew they could count on the vast majority of Americans and almost the entire press corps to pay so little attention to Kerry’s words that it would be relatively easy to spin what he’d said to make it sound like he’d insulted the troops without being challenged on it.  Sure, Keith Olberman had at them well and truly, but he’s unfortunately consigned to what amounts to the back, back, back pages of TV news on [tag]MSNBC[/tag], a network hardly anyone watches.  I dare say more people have seen clips of his response to this mess on YouTube than have watched his nightly show in the past year.

Our collective national communications skills are feeble.  It’s as if everyone in the [tag]United States[/tag] is simultaneously demanding to be listened to at once, and the cacophony has rendered no one at all interested in what’s being said.  There was a time, not all that long ago, when we admired people for being persuasive.  [tag]Ronald Reagan[/tag] was not someone I admired and his politics offended me more often than not, but I could not deny his ability to speak and make a point.  Today a politician like Reagan would be despised for even trying to get his foes to see his point.

Our culture has become, as Keith Olberman points out in the above-linked video, eerily similar to the America of the 1850s.  Consensus and persuasion are despised.  Anyone who compromises is a traitor to their side.  People who try to sway the majority to accept their views are regarded as windbags and are vilified as deceitful.  You’re either with us or against us.  Everything is black or white and the subtle grays of reality are rejected out of hand.

And because most of us didn’t listen in school we don’t know that it was an inability to compromise and work across the aisle that led to the bloodbath of the [tag]American Civil War[/tag].  Even that defining event for this country is little understood by most people.  It’s oversimplified into being only about slavery.  Americans don’t know their own history and don’t know that it was intractability, fanaticism on both sides and appeals to the biblical rightness of each cause that flung this country into the bloodiest conflict it has ever been involved in – one that still resonates in our politics and defines our society today.

The problem with justifying your cause or your ideals in terms of “God’s word” is that doing so leaves no room to maneuver, and to manage a massive and sophisticated social construct like the United States it is imperative that we have lots of room to maneuver.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: