Left of Center: Can We Talk?

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During a recent extended-family celebration, the boys under the age of 12 – and, to be accurate, some of the boys over the age of 21 – engaged in the sort of improvised martial arts encounters so beloved by that gender. As any mother of sons knows, a boy can create a weapon out of anything.

Finally, one of the younger kids, ducking the barrage, called out, “Can we talk?”

“Talk!?” retorted one of the older assailants. “What are you, a liberal?”

Being six years old, the boy had no response; being somewhat older, I thought better than to jump into the conversation at that time and place.

But his plea has stayed with me into the New Year. Can we talk?

As mentioned in my last column, we attend an annual New Year’s Eve retreat, where we talk a great deal. On the drive north, our traveling companions spoke of a letter they received from a conservative Christian friend in the Midwest, seeking to collaborate with people on the left who share his passion to address world poverty. At the retreat, an attorney analyzed “Gay Marriage Goes to the Supreme Court,” a Jewish woman raised in the South spoke on “The Separation of Church and State,” and we all watched the 2012 Stanford Roundtable “Gray Matters: Your brain, your life and brain science in the 21st century.” (Not at all boring, as I had feared–lean more at  stanford.edu/rountable). I also sat in on the discussion, “Violence in Our Society.” More on that shortly.

We are a group of conservatives, moderates, and liberals, Bay Area techies and professors and Orange County entrepreneurs and non-profit volunteers. We are collegial. I counted only one flare-up: whether Republican President Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961) was to the left of President Obama.

So I returned in hopes that with the 2012 election behind us, we as a community and a country might indeed talk more effectively. But that was before Speaker of the House John Boehner dropped his f-bomb in the White House. Before the NRA staked out its ideological territory as the country agonized over Sandy Hook. Before local naysayers continued their lamentations about the dock tax and the Taj Ma (City) Hall.

Can we talk — with civility? Just as important, will we listen — with courtesy? If you despair at the way government is run – and who doesn’t? – insist upon these two values, civility and courtesy, the next time you interact with a public official. This includes those cranky letters some of us like to send to our local newspapers. I hear both from city officials tired of the vitriol directed at them by angry citizens and from citizens frustrated by the indifference and put-downs they experience when dealing with those in city government. If you’re going demand civility and courtesy in the public forum, practice it, too.

Back to the “Violence in Society” session, where we agreed that although the issue is daunting and complex, that’s no excuse for doing nothing. We came up with ideas for talking points: Redefine the hazy term “gun control” with “assault weapon control.” What is your moral obligation, hunters who don’t use them, for supporting the NRA despite its resistance to banning assault weapons? Can we agree that mentally ill people should be prevented from buying firearms of any sort at gun shows?

The NRA guards the rights of its 4 million members to bear arms. What about the remaining 311 million Americans who lack a powerful lobby to guard our rights to assemble without fear of getting mowed down? How many of us thought twice about visiting Fashion Island after the December 15 shooting incident there?

We also organized a List-Serve entitled “25/10.” We pledged to spend 25 hours in 2013 (about two hours a month) lobbying 10 people to join us in continuing the discussion as well as pressuring our legislators to man up. In Newport Beach, that means Rep. Dana Rohrabacher and Assemblyman Allan Mansoor will be hearing from us soon and often.

Sandy Hook may have been the tipping point for a grass roots movement to enact sane gun control. How tragic that it took the murder of 20 first-graders to make us ask: Isn’t it time the country grew up?

Jean is a local author, editor and writing instructor. She can be reached at [email protected].

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