Whiplash, Part 1

Here’s the kind of day Tuesday was.

First, I got to read all about the latest gubernatorial sex news out of New York, followed by an alleged threesome involving the former governor of New Jersey, his wife and the office stud service.  What a pleasant way to start the morning.  The only good thing I could think was that at least that news made the governors of a couple of Eastern seaboard states look a little worse than Rick Perry, the governor of Texas.

You probably know Perry, known more familiarly in these parts as Governor Good Hair.  He was the mega-brain quoted in The New York Times Sunday magazine about keeping homosexuals out of the Boy Scouts.  As if Perry’s photo weren’t bad enough (he was dressed in all-black, with fingers thoughtfully outstretched, looking for all the world like a defrocked priest), his quotes were far worse.  If gays weren’t all about sex, Perry mused, then why did that scary word homosexual include –sexual in it?

My, my.  Isn’t that food for thought?

After that, I proceeded to get in a ridiculous argument with one of my best friends about the Paul McCartney-Heather Mills divorce.  Here was the level of discourse:

Her: I’m glad Heather got $48 million.  She deserved it.

Me: For what?  They were only married four years.

Her: What was she supposed to do?  Live in a hut in London while he was living in a palace?

Me: Yes.

Her: He had pictures of his first wife, Linda, all over the place.  How was Heather supposed to live with that?

Me: All of Paul’s children hated her.  She didn’t even get Stella to design her wedding dress.

Her: But Heather had her foot amputated after a land mine explosion!

Me: I knew you were going to bring that up.

All of which is to show I’m as low-minded as anybody else.  Which is probably why I hear glass shattering every time I heave a rock.

In the midst of all this, though, another friend sent me the NPR link for Obama’s speech about race.  I sat and listened to it all the way through.  I thought it was extraordinary.

What moved me more than anything were his compassion and insight into the human condition.  In a world of snap judgments and cheap shots — many of which I often make myself; they’re so easy, aren’t they? — he spoke about individual human beings as the complex and contradictory creatures they are.  A minister could be angry and wrong about many things, but still a force for good.  People could resort to what seemed to be bigotry when, in fact, they had true grievances that needed to be examined.

At so many points, it seemed to me, Obama resisted the impulse toward facile judgment and easy characterization.  We’re all the sum of so many divergent parts — good, bad, worthy, reprehensible.  Can we slow down and listen?  Can we speak from the heart?  Can we try to understand one another?  Can we try to be something better than we are?

What’s striking is that I felt Obama was appealing to what Lincoln called the “better angels of our nature” by looking deeper into why we act as we do, what angers us, what we fear.  It’s extraordinary to me that he found those better angels by looking beyond the darkness and rancor of prejudicial words and behaviors — and into the human heart.

(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)

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