Losing My Convictions

buttingheadsNot so very long ago, I knew what I thought about things. I could debate them point by point with relative ease and felt comfortable with the conclusions I reached. I identified myself as a libertarian-leaning Republican – conservative both fiscally and in terms of defense, but socially liberal. Central to my thinking is the sincere belief that most things the government undertakes turn out to be disasters. I am suspicious of decisions made by committees and generally believe the fewer cooks in the kitchen the better. And – raised by a lawyer – I’m equally suspicious of new laws and constitutional amendments, believing them to often be the result of emotional reactions rather than well-considered policy.

 But convictions are a funny thing. Sometimes all it takes to shake up your belief system is a personal experience with what you didn’t know before. The fundamentalist Christian mother who finds herself loving a gay child. The pro-life couple whose amniocentesis shows a baby whose genetics are incompatible with life. The anti-marijuana legalization police officer who is racked with pain from bone cancer and nausea from chemo. The fiscally liberal woman who finds taxes and regulations strangling her small business. Life is like that sometimes, and irony mocks us.

 Five years ago, I had many convictions. One of them was a sincere belief that the Department of Education was the worst thing to ever happen to U.S. Education. My belief in that wasn’t based merely on my party’s stance. Unlike a lot a politicians, I actually graduated from a college of education. I have been trained in ridiculous theories, participated in wastes of expenditure, and seen firsthand the effects of an educational culture that values test scores over knowledge. I still believe that U.S. educational policy is absurd and that each new generation is just a bit more ignorant than their parents. It’s why I send my daughter to a private school, and I won’t apologize for that. But now I find myself unsure of my prior held convictions – and that’s because of Callum.

 You see, I now know that I’m a hypocrite. I’m a hypocrite because I am now depending upon the Department of Education and federal law to protect my child from a substandard education. If it were not for the IDEA, my son would not have any of what he has now nor would he have anything I am fighting for him to receive. If it were not for state oversight, school districts would not provide for his special needs. IDEA safeguards are the only big sticks available for me to carry as I walk softly through the IEP battleground. Now I find myself dependent upon the very agency I generally abhor. So, I’m a walking, talking hypocrite. And that has a lot of implications for many of my core beliefs.

 What else do I hold to be true – until I have walked in the shoes of one directly affected by it? What other political philosophies are incompatible with the needs of other human beings just like me? How can I gratefully accept that which I have decried – or voted against?

 Becoming the mother of a special needs child didn’t just shake up my world; it shook up my mind. I am not lost so much as I am now aware of everything I don’t know. Suspicious of every viewpoint I hear. And for a very simple reason – most people know not of what they speak. Not really know. They’ve heard about it. They’ve read about it. They imagine how they would feel if it were them. They compare it to something they know that isn’t entirely (or at all) related. And they espouse – and vote –from the comfort of their unaffected lives.

 That realization has left me without many convictions, cast adrift in a sea of political parties who don’t represent me at all. Reading social media commentary from friends and family who don’t yet realize the ease of becoming a hypocrite as well – when life runs up and knocks them over on the playground. People who haven’t yet had to fight for the well being of another. Who haven’t been desperate, shunned, violated, sick, divorced, disabled, broke, or any of the myriad occurrences that can shake up one’s world. People who weed their friends list based upon political parties or religious views. People who don’t know – or yet know – what they would really think if it happened to them.

 I see very little of the world in black and white these days. It’s all a bunch of varying shades of gray. Which makes it hard to wholly embrace any viewpoints at all or cheer any platform. Instead my mind immediately goes to “What if it was Bronwyn? What if it was Callum?” And then I have my answer., at least for me. The problem is that no political party exists whose mission statement is to do unto others as they would have done unto them. And none of them will admit “Clearly, what we thought would work didn’t. Let’s start over.” Which is exactly what we need with regard to education, health care, taxes, drugs, and so much more. Until that happens, color me unimpressed and label me an independent.

 In the meantime, World, please just…be kind to one another in how we define our problems. It’s rough out there.

“I don’t believe in superstars
Organic food and foreign cars
I don’t believe the price of gold
The certainty of growing old
That right is right and left is wrong
That north and south can’t get along
That east is east and west is west
And bein’ first is always best
But I believe in love
I believe in babies
I believe in mom and dad
And I believe in you.”

-Don Williams, “I Believe in Love

 

 

8 thoughts on “Losing My Convictions

  1. Marlene

    Yes, you are so right. It was a shock to me those forty years ago when I had to, for the very first time, ask for help via services for my young son who appeared so different, yet no one at the time could put a label on what we now know as Autism. It was hard asking for help; it was hard realizing that there were hard-cored realities of the system to navigate that I never knew existed. Yet, when all is said and done, I am ever so grateful for what IDEA and the Dept. of Education has afforded me and my son. It was never easy bearing the burden of proof to access his needed services, but with that proof, the supports came, as did the medical help via Medicaid when the insurance companies refused to cover his health care under the excuse of ‘Ancillary risks’. During those early years I so appreciated the opportunity to work for a program that offered me federally funded help to go back to college to learn more in the field of education and to eventually help bring about some of the changes through the legislation I wrote; the advocacy I continued to do, and all else that I learned along the way that would eventually help my son and others like him. That is to say, that there is no ‘perfect’ in this world; no bed of roses, that each of us at one time or another will be needing a helping hand. So while we might like to be able to see the ‘black vs white’ from which to choose; it is the gray that matters. It’s not coming to conclusions out of absolutism; not judging the needs of others, or what those may need to take from the government as a helping hand up. It’s what we all do together to help each other in the giving back that counts. Giving our children the supports they need to help them rise to the best of their ability as they make up the next generation who will be there to lead our country forward.

  2. Lisa

    Very well written…I could have written a lot of this. I am right there with you. I, too, abhor the Department of Education for many things (testing, ahem), but they also are the reason why my boys have rights and an appropriate education. Well done.

  3. Leanne

    Thank you for such a well written post. I wish that more people understood what it is like to have life hand you a very unexpected pair of shoes. That being said I believe that it is possible for something good, IDEA for example, to come out of a system that is broken beyond repair. I learned long ago that very few issues are black and white but oh so many shades of gray.

  4. Laura

    Yes, yes, yes. My beliefs have evolved as well. Not only my son, but now possibly my daughter have Asperger’s Syndrome. Without the IDEA & an I.E.P., I know my son would not be where he is now. He’s junior in high school. He is planning to attend a local engineering college. The college actually has a department of special needs, devoted to assisting disabled students with navigating college, graduating and getting a job.

    NONE of this would have happened without IDEA. I thank goodness for it every day, for without it, he wouldn’t have stood a chance.

    Makes you think about what challenges others face. Though different from mine, their challenges are not less than mine. They also deserve the same help and care, don’t they? I’m not that special.

  5. Laura

    Yes, yes, yes. My beliefs have evolved as well. Not only my son, but now possibly my daughter have Asperger’s Syndrome. Without the IDEA & an I.E.P., I know my son would not be where he is now. He’s junior in high school. He is planning to attend a local engineering college. The college actually has a department of special needs, devoted to assisting disabled students with navigating college, graduating and getting a job.

    NONE of this would have happened without IDEA. I thank goodness for it every day, for without it, he wouldn’t have stood a chance.

    Makes you think about what challenges others face. Though different from mine, their challenges are not less than mine. They also deserve the same help and care, don’t they? I’m not that special.

  6. Janine Velasquez

    Thanks sweetie again and again for the wonderful insight. Your snapshots of life could be the illistrations for my own. We always seem to be on the same page. Hope all is well with the snow, and the winter, and the kids, and life. I will and we must all

    Carry on,
    Janine Velasquez

  7. Anonymous

    “Now I find myself dependent upon the very agency I generally abhor.”
    But isn’t that what government is best at? Creating dependencies? Isn’t it why we have unemployment, so that people will remain dependent? And for whom? Is it for the government itself, or is it for the benefit of the corporations whose money is responsible for putting our politicians in office much more than our votes are?

    Autism is all about looting money from parents who care about their kids. People’s emotions generate more profit than anything else in the world. Trillions of dollars are spent on the illusions of emotional contentment, which is really just pacification. People’s love for their children too often translates into hasty decisions promoted by “experts”, but most of that stuff will do their kids no good, especially the autistic kids.

    Some day people are going to be asking me why I didn’t speak up about all of this stuff sooner. And all I will be able to say is, “I tried, but none of you would listen. You dismissed my comments because I am autistic. They all pushed me away (and others too) because we weren’t saying what they wanted to hear. We weren’t saying all the things that supported the illusions and (so-called) common knowledge.”

    The raw truth is almost never politically correct.

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