It's Friday night at the Lindsleys and all has been pretty calm. We had pizza and watched The Karate Kid on Netflix. The new one. I missed Mr. Miyagi. Elsewhere, though, things are not so normal. As I type this, our federal government is teetering precariously on the brink of a shutdown because the two sides can't agree on a budget. To hear the experts talk (and it's tough these days to know who the experts are) the differences are pretty miniscule as far as dollars and cents. But that appears to be the problem - it's not about dollars and cents anymore. I'm not even sure it's about the 800,000+ American citizens who will go unpaid and the services may depend on that won't be rendered. You'd think we would be their focus (and I'm holding both sides accountable here), but apparently we're not. No, apparently in our day and time, when you and the other guy don't agree on how to best solve a problem, it's not what's in everyone's best interest that should motivate you.
It's doing everything you possibly can to keep yourself from looking like a loser.
Have you noticed this? It's not anything new, really. It's as old as the schoolyard playground. It's what my grade-school sons have been known to engage in from time to time. There's a stuffed animal, say, and they both claim it as their own. So they hold on to it and try to wrestle it away from the other. Eventually, though, the item of contention itself becomes insigificant - almost completely forgotten. Harold the stuffed monkey is no longer what they're really concerned about. All that matters is that they hold on to whatever it is with all their life so they wind up winning.
Good gosh. Maybe Charlie Sheen was right after all.
It's kind of cute when eight and six-year olds engage in this sort of thing (okay, maybe not so cute), but it definetly isn't very endearing when grown adults go at it. Case in point: a few months ago the NFL owners and players duked it out in trying to strike a collective bargaining agreement to prevent a work stoppage. The stakes there too were high - the National Football League is easily the most popular and lucrative of all the professional sports leagues in the country. It was in the best interests of both sides to strike a deal and keep playing. And the differences separating the sides were not insurmountable. In the end, though neither side wanted to look like the one who caved in. No one wanted to be perceived as the loser. So unless something dramatic changes in the near future, my Panthers won't get a chance to repeat their horrendous 2-14 season.
And frankly, the media doesn't help matters much. With the 24-7 news cycle and ever-constant Twitter updates, the die is perpetually being cast and the stakes ever raised in the public eye. The shutdown hasn't even happened, and yet for days all the pundits have been talking about who stands to suffer more politically if a deal isn't reached. This kind of stuff isn't very helpful. Earlier this evening former Bush Press Secretary Ari Fleischer showcased this tidbit of wisdom in the Twitterverse:
What I'm wondering in all of this is whether this is fast-becoming not just the way differences are solved in the high-stakes political process or ridiculously-lucrative world of professional sports, but in everyday interactions of the common folk. It's a fact: people won't always agree on everything. There are going to be instances where we have to work to solve our differences. And my concern is that things like compromise and give-and-take will take a back-seat to worrying about what our reputation looks like after the dust is settled.
I know it's easy to take sides when you're talking about hot-button issues like national politics and football (man, I really wanted the Steelers to win the Super Bowl), and that's not really the point of this blog post. Because when things play out the way they have so far, the truth of the matter is that both sides are at fault. And then it becomes nothing more than a self-fulfilling prophecy: when both sides worry only about not being perceived as the loser, both sides wind up becoming the loser.
Let's hope productive dialogue and compromise win out over positioning and self-preservation. Because even though I don't agree with everything my government says or does, I still want it to function. And I really won't know what to do with myself if there's no football on Sunday afternoons this fall.
UPDATE: Mere seconds after I hit the "Publish" button for this post, the news came that the government reached a deal to hopefully avoid a shutdown.