Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, "Hey, there is an elephant in the village today." They had no idea what an elephant is. They decided, "Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway." All of them went where the elephant was. Every one of them touched the elephant.
"Hey, the elephant is a pillar," said the first man who touched his leg.
"Oh, no! it is like a rope," said the second man who touched the tail.
"Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree," said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.
"It is like a big hand fan" said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.
"It is like a huge wall," said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.
"It is like a solid pipe," Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.
They began to argue about the elephant and every one of them insisted that he was right. It looked like they were getting agitated. A wise man was passing by and he saw this. He stopped and asked them, "What is the matter?" They said, "We cannot agree to what the elephant is like." Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like. The wise man calmly explained to them, "All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently is because each one of you touched a different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features that you all said."
"Oh!" everyone said. There was no more fight. They felt happy that they were all right.
As we know, the story of the Blind Men and the Elephant is about understanding that each of us has a different perspective; there may be some truth to what others say, depending on their personal experience of their own truth. It's important to talk, to discuss, to try to gain understanding through dialogue, intellectual reasoning and critical thinking.
I think our media does a terrible disservice to us by not providing sufficient information to foster intelligent dialogue. By design, the media must create headlines that inflame emotions and sell newspapers. "If it bleeds, it leads." They give us brief synopses of stories with no in-depth information; we get only the sketchiest and the most lurid of details as a result. The more scandalous ("AIG execs spend thousands at high-end resort!"), the better. In our reality-TV culture, the media panders to the voyeuristic nature that's so prevalent today, creating shocking, sensational headlines to incite highly emotional, agitated responses.
We need to take it upon ourselves to learn from different sources, look at different parts of "the elephant" in order to get a complete picture of the facts, especially regarding information on the candidates and their positions in this election.
A young woman was interviewed on TV recently to gain her perspective on the financial bail-out. "The government shouldn't get more money if they can't handle the money they already have!" she raged emotionally. She didn't realize the "bail-out" was not for the government , but for the financial institutions. (How could a government bail itself out with its own money? That would be like a person in debt spending more money to get out of debt. Illogical.) Yet, she was very irate and upset about the whole thing. And the cameras were there to capture her ire and fan others' flames of anger.
And that AIG thing? There were calls to "throw the bums out!" for partying after receiving the bail-out. The facts are that AIG is comprised of over 70 companies, many of them insurance agencies. It was the holding company, the arm that held the mortgage-backed securities, that was bailed out, not the insurance agencies. It was an independently owned insurance company affiliated with AIG that held its annual event in SoCal to reward their top-producing agents, an event very common in many industries to reward their top sellers. There were no AIG execs paryting; there was no government money spent.
Another great example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NyvqhdllXgU Man-on-the-street interviews where Obama supporters were presented with McCain's views but were told they were Obama's; those interviewed strongly agreed with those views and also agreed that Sarah Palin would make a great vice president for Obama.
There was a brief moment this week where everyone gasped that $150,000 had been spent on Sarah Palin's wardrobe, hair and make-up. This money was paid by the Republican National Committee, not the government; no tax dollars were spent. The RNC has a line item in their budget for candidates' wardrobes, not Sarah Palin's specifically, but for whomever the candidates are. The candidates have to travel through many different climate zones - from warm to cold, rainy to sunny; they have to make TV appearances, give interviews; they have to look the part. Obama just bought five $1500 suits. And I personally think the man looks very sharp in his expensive suits. Kinda has a 50s, Frank Sinatra vibe. I don't care about his suits, or Palin's wardrobe, and the media shouldn't care, either. More meat, less dressing, please.
My point is not to mock those who are ignorant or ill-informed, but to encourage people to look beyond just the elephant's trunk. Touch its ear, its side, its leg. Learn more. Question more. Read more. Be a little suspicious of the information you're receiving. (Instead of watching TV news or taking a newspaper, I read Newsweek for in-depth coverage. Although lately it's been very one-sided, at least the articles are several pages instead of a few paragraphs.)
Voters should cast their ballots according to their own conscience, but it should be a well-informed conscience that has given careful consideration to issues of health care, taxes, the economy, leadership ... world issues and national issues that affect us all. There's no right or wrong candidate. They are different people with different approaches. Each of us views the candidates according to the issues that are important to us. I have my hot-button issues, and others have theirs. We should be tolerant of one another's viewpoints, but we should also be knowledgeable enough to be able to engage in intelligent discourse and to support our positions. Voting is a privilege and should not be undertaken frivolously, but with seriousness and with respect.