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Black, white, and everything in between

One of my college roommates, also named Chris, recently shared with me, a video of a lecture given by a Professor of Political Science, John Mearsheimer. His lecture on, “Why Ukraine is the West’s Fault.” made me skeptical. I had a tough time even making the decision to watch the video. Like most people in this country, I have not missed the horror of what is happening in that country today. I just assumed it an open and shut case of a mad man’s quest to rebuild the Soviet Union, the bad guys that have been ever present in my life. The blame for this was clearly on Putin’s shoulders, not the West’s.

When Chris suggested to me that there was more to the story in Ukraine, it clashed with my understanding of what was happening, so I resisted. I attempted to argue the point, but quickly realized I was in a battle of wits and I was the unarmed man. Chris has always been far smarter than me and he has a passion for Russian history. Still, a week or more went by before curiosity finally got the best of me. Okay, how the hell is what is happening in Ukraine, OUR fault? I watched the video.

Professor Mearsheimer suggests that there is little risk of the return of the Soviet Union today. Russia has far too many domestic challenges to attempt anything so grandiose. His position is that Putin simply wants to destroy Ukraine. As if his message is, “If NATO wants the Ukraine, they can have it in rubble.” Certainly, the horrible stories I hear every day seem to suggest that is exactly what he is doing. Mearsheimer draws an analogy to the fear the United States felt when the Soviet Union parked nuclear missiles ninety miles off our shore during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. That was something we just would not accept. The west has been vocal in the belief that democracy is the only acceptable form of government. Having a NATO presence, the size of Ukraine directly on his border was a direct threat, not unlike the one we felt in 1962,

It was an interesting perspective on the sound bites I hear on the nightly news. There is a lot more in the lecture about the situation and the impact on the future, but I will leave that to you to listen to if you are so inclined.

It is a dangerous world and I worry about the future. I frequently feel compelled to apologize to my kids for the mess we are leaving them. At times, I really feel sorrowful about it, and I wish I knew how to make things better for them. Yeah, yeah. I can vote, campaign for candidates I believe in, protest, and stand on a street corner with a sign, “THE END IS NEAR,” but like so many people in this country, I either do not have the ambition to really do something, or I have so little faith in whether it would really make a difference.

Professor Mearsheimer’s lecture not only opened my eyes to the broader geopolitical situation at the heart of the atrocities in Ukraine, but it also reinforced, for me, what is so horribly wrong in this country today.

There is a dreadful absence of intellectual curiosity. We all have opinions, beliefs, or faiths that we are unwilling or afraid to question — to test for validity. I cannot imagine how many times I have stated an opinion as a fact. It might not even have been my own opinion. There is a good chance I will do it again before I finish writing this. I have frequently joked, you can’t let the truth interfere with a good story.

Watching that video reminded me that things are rarely what they seem on the surface. There is ALWAYS more to the story. Imagine how it would change the world if we all took a lesson from our toddlers and asked the simple question, “Why?,” more often. Better yet, what if we took a page from Toyota Motor Company’s “Five Why’s” and kept digging for the truth, the real truth, the whole truth, rather than only far enough to reinforce our own opinions?

What if we all sat down, with real intellectual curiosity, and listened to an autobiography of Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton (you choose the one that offends you the most)? I don’t mean, “Okay let me see why s/he is such an idiot.” I mean, ‘I wonder who this person really is?”

How could that be a bad thing? There really is no risk. No one says we must change the opinions we share with others, even if we suddenly believe we were wrong in our original beliefs. We are free to be blindly ignorant or simply make the choice to do so, if we don’t like what we hear. Why not take the chance to see if we are, God forbid, wrong in our opinions.

Okay, that’s harsh, but on some level that is the choice we all make every day.

This country was founded with the understanding that our form of government would only be successful if our leaders knew how to compromise on tough decisions. (For those of you who, unlike me, actually paid attention in history classes, and disagree on this point, remember what I told you above about truth and a good story?)

Can you imagine how things would be different today if our politicians were willing to really invest the time and emotional energy to understand what their colleagues on the other side of the aisle were trying to accomplish? If both sides did that, they almost certainly would find far more creative solutions to the monumental challenges this country faces today.

Yeah, I know, maybe when pigs fly. The amount of money in politics and the allure of power are strong motivators, and politicians are incentivized to collect votes, not the truth.

What if we, the ones who put them in office, started with the simple task of getting to know the “idiot” neighbor down the street with the different political opinion? What could we learn? What if we could get away from labeling everyone. I am pro-life and equally pro-choice. Name one person who doesn’t like life or choice? The world isn’t black and white so if we see things that way then we are missing most of the picture.

I can’t help but wonder, what if every voter who went to the polls was well informed on all sides of the issues, not just what Google, Fox News, or NBC told them?

Would that change the world?

I suppose I am just a helpless romantic. There is little chance to see this in my lifetime. We are racing as fast as we can the other way.

My hopes of changing the world are little more than a pipedream, but maybe, with a little appreciative understanding, I can at least get to know that strange guy down the street along the way and that feels like a win.

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Marilyn Monnette
Marilyn Monnette
06 sep. 2022

I love your openness and curiosity for other points of view. Thanks for being a role model for the rest of us. xoxo


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