Saturday, May 21, 2011

Sound Bites

"Obama really sucks, doesn't he?"

This is the statement I heard from a woman passing by as I closed the car door at a convenience store parking lot. I was lost in my own world, thinking about where I was going and what was on my agenda for the rest of the day. I was in my wife's car, which (among many others) displays an Obama bumper sticker. I'm sure this is what my passer-by friend has noticed and commented on.

The trouble is that I have no idea what she was talking about. My initial response was to laugh, thinking that her comment was sarcastic. My initial reaction was that her opinion was the same as mine, that so many people complain about the president, even when the work he's doing is commendable. However, before I was out of the parking lot, I had second thoughts about her intent. Perhaps she really doesn't think he's a worthy president, and that she wishes someone else had that office. Then, before I was four blocks down the road, I wondered if she believes his policies are too liberal, or that he's not doing what he promised he would when he was campaigning.

By the time I got to work, I realized what bothers me about that exchange. It's the reality that sound bite exchanges are not conversations.

It seems to me that public discourse in this country has become nothing more than individuals and groups slinging statements at one another. When we do that, it is impossible to have actual conversation.

I would have loved to sit down over coffee and have a real exchange of ideas with this woman. Obviously she has her opinions, but I don't actually know what they are based on a statement made in passing with completely no context. And the only thing she can really assume based on the bumper sticker on the car I was driving is what my preference was in the most recent presidential election.

Real life is more nuanced than sound bites, tweets, and bumper sticker slogans. I wonder what our national life would be like if we had actual conversations ~ you know the kind, where we actually talk with and listen to one another.


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