Six blind men went to ride the elephant at the Indianapolis Zoo. Each of them touched the elephant.
The first blind man touched its side and said, “How smooth! An elephant is like a wall.”
The second blind man touched its trunk and said, “How round! An elephant is like a snake.”
The third blind man touched its tusk and said, “How sharp! An elephant is like a spear.”
The fourth blind man touched its leg and said, “How tall! An elephant is like a tree.”
The fifth blind man touched its ear and said, “How wide! An elephant is like a fan.”
The sixth blind man touched its tail and said, “How thin! An elephant is like a rope.”
They began to argue and each insisted he was right. The zookeeper stepped in and said, “The elephant is a big animal. Each of you touched only one part. You must put all the parts together to find out what an elephant is like.”
Earlier this year Indiana became a right-to-work state, meaning that union membership can no longer be a condition of any job. The bill was hotly contested. The Democrats in the legislature knew they didn’t have enough votes to stop the bill, so they walked out of the Statehouse several times trying to delay its passage. A throng of union members protested on the Statehouse lawn the day the Senate passed the bill, and later marched through Downtown showing their solidarity. All of this happened in the days before the Super Bowl, hosted here this year, only heightening the attention they received.
In the face of this I learned that many people I know work union jobs. My Facebook feed absolutely lit up with angry comments about the bill. Many declared that this would be remembered come the next election. Some posted outright propaganda against it, trying to undermine it with fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Some resorted to painting the other side as buffoons unqualified to tie their own shoes. Others equated this move with pure evil, pointing to the unraveling of all that’s good and moral in America, portending the end of society as we know it. One comment compared our Republican governor with Hitler, which I suppose was inevitable.
My pro-union friends are concerned over the effect this law may have on wages. And they strongly feel (and I empathize with them) that if a union bargained for a job’s wage, it’s not fair to let anyone take that job without helping pay the costs of the union that won that wage. On the other hand, our governor claims that Indiana is not attracting certain jobs because we’re not a right-to-work state, and that those jobs are key to Indiana’s continued bright future.
I’m not qualified to judge whether right-to-work will lower wages or bring jobs. And I don’t want to debate it in the comments, as that’s not why I’m writing this. I just wanted to show that each side had a position on the matter, and if you take that position at face value, no evil is implied. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some in our state government are corrupt; some may be outright evil for all I know. But just because someone in government adheres to a perspective radical to yours makes them neither evil nor corrupt.
My neighborhood was built at a time when the city limits, and therefore city services such as water and sewer, didn’t extend this far north. My neighbors and I all draw water from wells and have septic tanks in our back yards. The city is currently extending sewer lines out this way and has notified us that we will not be given a choice, we must connect – at a cost to each homeowner of about $6,000.
I’ve gone to every informational meeting the city has held about this project. I went to the first one quite angry. You see, there’s nothing wrong with my septic system. It will take me some time to scrape together $6,000 for this. I’d really rather spend my money in other ways or, better, save it for a rainy day, as the industry in which I work is notoriously volatile and I know from wretched experience how suddenly I can find myself unemployed.
Many of my neighbors are angry too, and have expressed it in no uncertain terms at these meetings. But several of my neighbors’s septic systems are very old and failing. One poor woman comes to all the meetings pleading for the work to begin, as her septic system failed two years ago and the monthly pumping fees are bankrupting her family. Moreover, city representatives say that these failing systems are leaching waste into the ground water, which pollutes our waterways. And they say that $6,000 is not even remotely close to the actual per-house cost of this project; local taxes and federal grants pick up most of the cost.
I am still unhappy about having to spend my money this way. But at least I can see why the city is doing this, and why it’s important.
I am growing weary of the political commentary on my Facebook feed. All too often it fails to take into account any sort of bigger picture or show any awareness of other perspectives. Unfailingly, people take a a view much like one of the blind men with the elephant and think their perspective gives them the whole picture. It has an enormous capacity to make otherwise kind and gentle people come across like jerks.
None of us want things we can’t directly control to adversely affect us. Most of us have strong ideas about how we’d like to see our world work. And we all want to feel like justice generally prevails and that real evil is found and punished. But our world’s problems are multilayered and complex, and often have have no clear and simple solutions. Every action that helps one group may end up harming another. Things change, institutions on which we once relied pass away, and we have no choice but to adapt.
So fight for what you think is right. But at the same time, work hard to understand other perspectives, especially those that conflict with yours. Try, anyway, to see the bigger picture, to understand that the whole elephant is more than just the ear you’re holding. Let it temper you.