The wife of a retired Northern Virginia Electric
Cooperative employee said to me at a recent gathering, “I enjoy reading
your articles in the magazine every month.” She added, “I didn’t
think you’d be so conservative, being that you’re an educator.”
It’s not the first time I’ve had someone tell me that conservative
thinking and educators don’t mix. She did say my articles seem to make
common sense, which in my opinion is far more important than whether they
are labeled conservative or liberal. Living a life that’s based on
common sense is one key to happiness.
In our society we are obsessed with trying to
categorize or label people. When people look at me and hear my name
they’ll say, “Aren’t you Italian?” Once they have identified my
ethnic background they assume a lot of things such as, I like pizza,
spaghetti, hot spices, wine, and talk loudly. Some will say, “I know the
first part of your name means good, what is the translation of the last
part?” I usually respond by saying, “Good For Nothing.” Knowing just
my ethnicity, some people will infer both positive and negative things.
I’m proud of both my heritage and my occupation, but many factors have
contributed to the makeup of this complex thing we call a human being
named John Bonfadini. In a section of the magazine entitled “WHATZIT?”
we show an enlarged snapshot of a small part of an object and ask our
readers to identity the object. Many readers are unable to correctly
identify the item from the small amount of information provided. If shown
the whole photo, the great majority would, no doubt, correctly identify
the item with ease. I believe we would be a much better society if we took
the time to understand the whole picture before making decisions about an
individual or groups of people.
In college I had an educational psychology professor
by the name of Bontrager. During one of his lectures he asked the
following question: “Two kids are arguing outside the window about an
object that’s planted in the ground. One is calling it a tree and the
other is calling it a bush. How would you help them solve their
argument?” Many students began to give their answer based on what they
had read in the textbook. I raised my hand and said, “I’d just call it
a bushy tree and make them both happy.” My answer got a big laugh, but
Professor Bontrager wasn’t looking for a laugh or creativity. I guess
that’s why I didn’t get an A in the class. What he was trying to show
the class was that things are often called by many different names. The
same piece of meat can be called a hot dog, wiener, or frankfurter. It all
depends where you live. To argue over what something is called may be to
argue over nothing. Understanding requires getting beyond the name and
actually eating the hot dog.
Politicians abuse the terms conservative and liberal
more than any other segment of our society. It seems to be the goal of
every politician to get voters to argue over what a hot dog is called. I
guess politicians don’t think the general voting populace can understand
the difference between a hot dog, sausage, kielbasa, salami or other meat
in a casing. Just keep them arguing over the name and they’ll eat it
without investigating its contents. I can remember when I ran for public
office a few decades ago. I was portrayed as a liberal simply because I
was an educator. Seldom did the dialogue get to the level of discussing if
either of us had the intelligence required for the office. Many people
just voted for the person based on identifiers such as republican or
democrat, liberal or conservative.
Often, labels are modified, giving us “moderate
republican” or “conservative democrat.”
I guess we could have a scale for all candidates that would look
something like this: Very Republican, Strongly Republican, Republican,
Somewhat Republican, and Occasionally Republican.
We could also use a scale that would look like the following:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
The candidate could circle the number, which would
tell the voters to what degree they are either democratic or republican.
An independent would choose 0. We could also have a scale for conservative
or liberal leanings. By now I hope you’re seeing my point: Just naming
or labeling something doesn’t do much toward helping to understand it.
On my way back home from Richmond once, I happened to
hear talk-show host Rush Limbaugh discussing “conservative versus
moderate” politics with a caller. He contended there is no such animal
as a political moderate. You’re either conservative or liberal and his
callers during this show despised liberals. In fact, many of the callers
were talking about their fellow Americans like they were some foreign
This is sort of like saying that if I’m a
Washington Redskins fan, then I hate Dallas. If we keep the conversation
at this level, it might be easy to say you hate the Dallas football team,
but do you really hate the players? Obviously, the answer is no. At one
point in my life I disliked spinach; now it’s my favorite vegetable.
Early in my life, on a family vacation trip from Pennsylvania to Florida,
we stayed at the Best Western in Winchester, Virginia. I was served grits
for the first time and my immediate response was, how could anyone eat
this stuff? It tasted like sandpaper. Today I frequently order them with
It’s a dangerous thing to get beyond labeling
something. We may find we like some or all the substance beyond the name.
there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different
view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending
comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to: DrBmailbag@aol.com,
or send written responses to the editor. Mail will be forwarded
to the author.