Not 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