McNaught: Such a Different Life, and Yet, the Same

SFGN File Photo

We’re north for the summer, in the forests, mountains, and lakes of the Adirondacks. We moved here after spending 16 summers in Provincetown. We followed friends, who charmed us with sunset boat rides in a Cris Craft, a shiny, wooden boat. 

Ray and I love the wilderness, most especially the wildlife. Not much could compare to the humpback whales and horsehead seals that often entered the harbor in front of our home, but, there’s also nothing to compare to the crackle of logs in a fireplace, and the haunting call of the loon in a cove on our property. Our lives are very different from what they once were, and yet, very much the same. We’re the same two guys and a dog, just in a different reality. 

On my errands today, I cut through the back streets of the blue collar neighborhoods of Tupper Lake, the former lumber town in which we live, seasonally. The magnificent spring symphony of blooming pink, purple, and white lilac, cherry trees, and the lowly but extraordinary yellow dandelions, reminded me so much of growing up in Michigan.

I like the simplicity and dignity of these neighborhoods that petition year round to have their potholed roads repaved. Cracked cement walks head directly from the street to the front doors of the simple homes of these good people, who all are very family oriented. In Tupper Lake, everyone is related.

This is also Trump territory, though not as demonstratively conservative as some sections of the country. If it was so, we would leave, and warn others not to come. This is a new experience for us, but we manage, as other liberals do, by finding and clinging to likeminded people. Among the liberal groups here you’ll find gay and straight people, well and under-educated, and those from all walks of life who share the same vision of America, and understanding of scripture. 

What I’ve learned recently, from a program on NPR, is that 40 percent of why I’m a Democrat, and the wealthy garbage collector in town is a Trump Republican, is genetic. The liberals here don’t see the world the way they do because they had different experiences growing up, but because their genetic make-up influences their perception of reality. We can’t help ourselves. The other 60 percent is due to the influences of our environment and nurturing, over which we have more control. That same DNA, I suppose, can influence whether we choose to live in Provincetown or in Tupper Lake, or in both.

It’s possible for researchers to pick out Republicans and Democrats based upon the way they process information. Tests where subjects were shown images, such as of a panda, a monkey, and a banana, and then asked to answer simple questions about the images, made it apparent who was who. So, you can have a liberal in Provincetown or Tupper Lake, but it’s more likely the liberal’s DNA would gravitate toward the tip of Cape Cod. Liberals are from Venus and Conservatives from Mars, but some of us, because of the 60 percent influences, are able to find peace and beauty in both.

Lincoln is neither a Republican nor a Democrat, but I can tell from his behavior that he is more likely to be a liberal. List quickly the characteristics of a liberal. Many of you know the story of Ferdinand the bull who refused to fight. That’s my boy. Lincoln has never been in a fight, except when attacked, or competing with his brother to protect the 7-year-old boy they both feel duty bound to guard. Make love, not war. All we are saying is give peace a chance. Lincoln is like his two dads.

If it’s true that 40 percent of the reason for our political views is guided by our DNA, is it possible for liberals and conservatives from either end of the spectrum, to truly understand what the other is saying? Many of us have had the experience of being completely perplexed by the political views of friends and family members. How can it be that two people raised in the same house can each be willing to die for opposing beliefs, or kill their siblings for opposing beliefs? Extreme, you say? Another American Civil War would put brother against brother, sister against sister. Are they each being pig-headed for no good reason, or do they passionately see the world differently because of their DNA, and other factors over which they had no control. 

I was very successful in my corporate diversity work on LGBT issues because before each presentation, I prayed that a power greater than myself would channel welcoming love to everyone in the audience. 

My use of words, and choice of examples, were not confrontational. So, we could be from different planets but nevertheless meet in a space station to talk. What do we talk about? The things we have in common —faith, love, family, whales and loons, beach sand, blooming apple trees, and potholes. And we, each side, must gently reframe the discussion on immigration, abortion, nationalism, and welfare to see where we can understand the other’s perspective, and perhaps find common ground.

Because we live in a democratic Republic, we get to vote. We also get to try to convince others to vote with us. But we shouldn’t set ourselves up for disappointment when they just can’t come to see things the same way we do. Whoever wins the vote gets to pack the Supreme Court with people who share their brainwaves. What is the relationship between the panda, the monkey, and the banana? Right answer. You’re confirmed to serve for life.

Ray and I bounce back like you, and like those old standing clown figures from our youth, that you could punch back and watch them spring forward, again to left of center. We spend our time doing more than building fires and listening to the call of the loons. 

We try to use welcoming, loving language with conservatives, and be mindful of how we’re talking about them when we’re with liberals. We can complain all we want, but, only they can decide whether their vote betrays their values of faith, love, and family. To change their mind wouldn’t mean they were defying their DNA. Rather, they’d be weighing which values they hold most dear.

Sometimes, no, oftentimes, we all need to sit quietly together, and enjoy listening to each other’s responses to lilacs and life as we each see them.


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