Now that the big election is over, I feel safe (sort of) to mention politics. It’s not my favorite subject. In fact, it’s probably my least favorite subject because it’s the one that, in my experience, people are least likely to see another’s (opposite) point of view. (Politics and religion, but that’s a whole other discussion.) As a writer, I think the ability to see and understand an alternate position is crucial. How can you possibly create diverse characters if they all think and act like you? You can’t, of course. So as much as I dislike the discussion of politics on a personal level, I pay attention during the political seasons to try to understand how others act and react.
Working in a newsroom, it turns out, provides the perfect incubator for the study of human behavior, and I came away from these past couple months with an eyeful and earful of opinions on the candidates, whether I wanted them or not. Example: A man called one day complaining that his candidate’s signs had been removed from lawns along a main roadway. He gave me the streets and intersections, thinking it was a big, big story that we needed to cover. The next day, a woman called with a similar story for the other candidate — a different neighborhood but the same thing. Both were outraged to the point of sputtering as they spoke over the audacity that someone could possibly commit such a heinous act as to remove a political sign from someone’s property. Personally I found both episodes to be more yawn-worthy than newsworthy, but I passed them on to our editors, as I normally do.
I don’t mean to belittle their honest feelings…honest. But people have been yanking political signs for as long as I can remember. I think the outrage can be saved for other infractions…like deliberately deterring a person or group of people from voting, or deliberately not counting a person’s or group’s vote. Those are biggies, and as long as people are people (fallible and self-centered to the point that they can’t comprehend another’s perspective), I suppose crimes like that will happen. And those complaints should be investigated and prosecuted.
But again, perception is all telling. People believe what they want to believe and see what they want to see. Here’s an example of another phone conversation:
Me: Hello, this is Leah. May I help you?
Caller: Yeah, you see the full-page story on page 10?
He’s angry. I can hear it in his voice. And I have no idea what could be causing those feelings. Warily, I pick up my always-within-reach copy of the day’s paper and see a full-page advertorial marked “PAID ADVERTISEMENT” at the top.
Me: I see a full-page ad.
The man goes on to describe the content, a full page of writing about why we should exercise our right to vote.
Me: Yes, sir, that’s what I’m looking at. It’s a paid advertisement. See the note at the top?
Caller: Yeah, but look at the bottom. Can you read that?
I drop my gaze to the bottom of the page and see information about absentee voting and deadlines for registration. It’s blurry. Really blurry. Since switching to a new printing plant a few months ago, we’ve had episodes of blurred pages. I mentally sigh and prepare for another tongue-lashing from a reader.
Me: Well, I see it, but I have to admit, I can’t read it.
Caller: Now you tell me that that isn’t a case of voter suppression. That part that’s telling people where to register is blurry. You deliberately made that blurry to keep people from voting.
I have to admit, that was the last thing I expected, and I almost choked. I assured him that there was no way to deliberately make that portion of the page blurry. I tried to explain about the problem with the presses, but he didn’t want to hear it. He demanded to know if the ad was submitted that way. I told him that was highly unlikely (we wouldn’t have accepted it), but at that point I could (thankfully) transfer him over to someone in advertising to set his mind at rest. (I hope they did!)
That man truly believed that we (whether organizationally or someone individually) had attempted to discourage citizens from voting. He could not comprehend the reality that it was just a mistake. (Mistakes – something else people don’t seem to tolerate these days, but that, too, is another discussion.)
I understand that individuals’ experiences (good and bad) shape their perceptions, and maybe that’s part of why people often believe what they want to believe. They look for proof to support their own feelings rather than facts to form (or re-form) an opinion. To me, this is the worst possible game our minds play, because we’re our own victims.
Personally, I’m so thankful that the political season is over and we can get on to more important things, like sex scandals and FBI agents sending topless photos of themselves through e-mail. You know, the stuff that novels are made of. (Truth IS stranger than fiction.)