Tuesday, August 02, 2016

An Ideological Comparison

I've sat around the last few weeks (in those rare moments I get to sit these days) and really struggled with the tension inherent in my nation's problems. As much as our media has perfected sound-byte wars and click bait headlines and the commodification of "news," complexity persists. There's nothing so simple as it seems.

I've struggled with how to express strong, uncomfortable truths in ways that maintain the dignity of those who are being critiqued. It's a difficult path to tread these days and quite possibly beyond my abilities. I've noticed an interesting parallel, though, that perhaps might give us pause to think about such complexities.

I've not polled anyone; this is purely anecdotal. If you don't have the tendencies I'm referencing here, this post probably isn't for you, feel free to stop reading. But I've noticed that people on the right tend to support police uncritically, while lodging serious complaints against teachers unions as a major issue in education. Similarly, those on the left tend to support teachers uncritically, while lodging serious complaints against the fraternality of police officers as a major impediment to racial and violence issues in society.

The parallels are interesting. These are two professions where the familial ties of union still ring strong across the country. There's a sense of duty and loyalty to those who serve together in the trenches that tends to bring with it a level of grace and forgiveness that's beyond what the general public might bestow.

As a pastor, my ears prick up at the all too common rationalization, "But I'm a good person, so I can let ________________ slide; nobody's perfect." We understand the difficulties we face in life and, rightfully, are gracious with ourselves. When we can so easily put ourselves in someone else's shoes, it's easy for us to give them the same measure of understanding - at least as much as we'd want.

I recognize that police and teachers aren't exactly on the same level; a bad teacher will almost never cost a student their life. At the same time, we put a lot of pressure on them to plug the straining dykes of societal backwash. We sort of expect the police and teachers to solve poverty without many of the resources that are absolutely essential to the job. The best police officer on earth will not prevent crimes or lower the number of criminals - threat of punishment is rarely, if ever, a deterrent (at least on a macro level). The best teacher on earth will not prevent students from missing educational opportunities. There are great stories or police and teachers affecting the lives of individuals in profound ways - and good teachers/police certainly can do so more often than bad ones - but thinking that these professions, even at their best, can tackle the problems society expects them to solve is sort of like asking someone to keep the ground dry in a rainstorm. The very fact that people keep trying is a real testament to the optimism of the human spirit.

Now I could outline a lot of things the police do that really works against their goals, as impossible as they may seem. The same could be said for teachers (as a group, remember, when we personalize these things, make them about that officer I know, that teacher who lives under the same roof, the whole conversation gets pulled out of context). It doesn't take a genius to see that things can and should be done differently. That's what people criticize. We've got neighborhoods out there where kids are more likely to end up in prison than college - that shouldn't necessarily demean that police and teachers who work hard to change the situation, but it's also a pretty strong condemnation of both systems in which they work.

I guess my point is that it's the same story. One gets used as a liberal crusade and the other to bolster conservative ranks. There are lots of kids convinced the cops are out to get them; a lot feel the same way about teachers. On the whole, that notion is silly and paranoid, but not all of those kids are wrong. There's the rub.

When things are broken, it's easier to blame someone else than roll up one's own sleeves. We can conveniently point to the people specifically charged with handling that "problem," and replace them if they fail too badly. But the responsibility we put on people, like police or teachers, is not their responsibility, it's our collective responsibility. There's a lot of good, sincere people attempting to do both of these jobs - just because some of them could be better, the drive and effort shouldn't be demeaned. The tight-knit unions that protect police and teachers don't do a lot to help society at large be sympathetic to the issues they face, but that shouldn't demean sincerity and commitment either.

The reality is that no hero's perfect, but also that no hero should ever be scared of admitting the truth of that statement. It's our responsibility to create the environment where that can happen. I suggest we do a better job of it before we go after "the other guy" or defend our own.

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