Ever watch “American Pickers?” For those who may not be familiar, “American Pickers” is a reality television series based on two guys who travel around the United States looking for treasure. Yet, they don’t dig for gold in the vast West, climb the highest mountains or dive to the depths of oceans to find sunken ships in search of treasure.
Nope, these two guys search for treasure in the oddest places — in what most would consider to be junk. They sift through broken-down old cars, dirty business signs, ripped-up toys, rusty tools, unusable equipment, etc., stored in garages, basements and attics all across America. They sift through these items with the enthusiasm of treasure hunters because they are the ultimate “don’t judge a book by its cover” people.
Suddenly, they find something that most of us would throw out, perhaps an old tennis racket with missing strings or a decaying steering wheel to a car. They discuss the items, assess and value them, then make the owner an offer.
What? What on earth did they see? What am I missing, guys? It was just an old tennis racket! As they sift through the pile, they tend to make offers on several old junky items. What am I missing? I believe part of the appeal of the show is the enthusiasm these two guys display when they unearth something they believe is of value while the rest of us don’t — but we’re curious to see the outcome.
Next, they offer the owner a sum of money for the item. I still really don’t have a clue as to what they see in terms of value, yet they recognize a treasure. It’ll make you scratch your head. But perhaps there is a lesson here.
It amazes me that two people looking at the same thing can see two entirely different things. And it happens all the time. Whether it’s looking at an object (an old, broken-down car), discussing an issue (something political on the news), considering an emotion (love, anger or jealousy) or witnessing an event (a car accident), perspectives are incredibly complicated, delicate and sensitive. They are a result of a multitude of dynamics we all experience that make up who we are.
One person may look at an issue and see nothing but disaster, while another considers the very same issue as a solution. Well, welcome to life on Capitol Hill! And by the way, it’s exactly what we want in a democracy. We want differing ideas, opinions and ideologies clashing (respectfully, however).
Just because you are right does not mean I am wrong. You just haven’t seen life from my side.
What amazes me more is that it amazes me. You’d think that being on this earth for 50-plus years, working on Capitol Hill and lobbying for more than three decades would have taught me not to be amazed. You’d think those years would have taught me to simply respect it and accept it.
Women-men, the elderly-youth, rich-poor, Democrats-Republicans, dogs-cats — we are all swimming in a sea of infinite perspectives every day. We process information very differently, which (I suppose) taps into our perspectives, and we come to a conclusion or opinion we believe to be common sense in our minds.
Perspectives come into play on Capitol Hill every day, and these perspectives are covered by the media in detail every day. The American people see what they believe to be chaotic on Capitol Hill (the junk), but much of what the American people see is precisely what we want in a democracy — ideologies bumping heads to find a solution or opportunities.
We tend to get caught up in the circus of human perspectives in policy-making rather than the issue. I’m not saying that the pettiness in Congress is productive — it is not. The American people witnessing how laws are designed, amended and developed through passionate debate is only unhealthy if they ignore the fact that open debate is the only way to ensure our freedoms.
I would ask those who see junk within our two congressional branches to take a step back — there is tremendous value in the process of open debate. I will say, though, that the art of compromise seems to have slipped away. It often is substituted with disrespect and gamesmanship.
Media stirs it up
I believe the media continues to go too far and leads the American people to believe something that isn’t true. Though I am an absolute fan of transparency and freedom of the press, I hear, see, and read the media’s accounts of the inner workings on Capitol Hill that portray it at times as chaotic. It is not.
Can you imagine if the media were to cover the behind-the scenes details of your family on a daily basis, with all the issues and interactions, then report the details (the perspectives) of your family in an attempt to conclude whether your family is healthy or not? To me, it’s mere media exaggeration and exploitation.
What I believe happens is when people attempt to express their thoughts or opinions in politics, they tend to define who they are instead of what they think. For example, two people are standing across a road from each other when a car comes down the road. They both see the car coming down the road. If each were to be interviewed as to what they saw, both would agree they witnessed a car driving down the road.
But that’s where the mutual agreement ends. Each account would begin to be different, perhaps confrontational. One would say the car moved down the road from right to left; the other would report that the vehicle moved down the road from left to right. The account of the car is more of a perspective.
The issue lies in that each is right and wrong at the same time. If we need to bring about a consensus of the event or what’s reality (which often begins to explain some of the debates on the House and Senate floor), it’s a dead end unless we’re willing to understand perspective. Mix this in with the media, whose true loyalty are ratings, viewership and readership motivated to fuel controversy, and the American people can only see one dynamic — chaos.
I know it’s a simplistic example, but when dealing with complicated issues heated with emotion, you can see where disorder is quickly and irresponsibly created.
People have different perspectives for many different reasons made up of many different origins. It’s probably one of the leading causes of miscommunication between people — distrust, tension, distance — and part of what is viewed as chaos on Capitol Hill. There’s no rocket science behind this, but it’s essential to pay attention.
If you take men and women — all with different financial, educational, spiritual, physical and social backgrounds — debating issues in committees or on the House and Senate floors on Capitol Hill, and throw in different political party pressures, as well as the demands of the media, and you begin to see gridlock.
I know gridlock upsets most Americans, but again, it’s merely ideologies clashing. It’s a healthy sign that our democracy continues to follow our founding ideals and reflects the freedoms of self-expression. Relax, America, calm down.
What we see on “American Pickers” is very applicable to public policy. I certainly don’t mean to imply that any issue or anyone’s perspective or opinion is “junk.” However, one person’s solution to an issue may be another person’s waste of time — it’s not unhealthy.
While people may look at the U.S. Capitol Building as a place where lawmakers don’t agree and are in utter disarray, I see it as the place of great opportunity because of the expression of thought and ideas to create public policies to maintain civility. Yes, there have been abuses in the system, but many great things occur in the halls of Congress every day. It takes a lot to maintain a nation.
Sports mentality of public policy
I’m not going to kid you. This isn’t a lesson or justification in changing perspectives, and there is no way I’ll ever see the position some take on issues, but my years in public policy taught me that while I don’t need to see your perspective for us to be productive, I do need to respect it.
The first step to finding productive solutions to very real problems is to thoughtfully respect that we all see things differently, and it’s not going to change. It’s not a matter of merely being polite; it’s business and an evolution of reality to lead to productivity.
Part of the problem is that we’ve become quick to “junk” more because we’ve adopted a sports mentality to public policy.
When it comes to sports, when I look at the scoreboard, I want to see that my team has won. Period. I’m not picky; winning is winning, even if it’s ugly. Not unusual, and I would think pretty typical of a sports fan. Stats, analysis and the injury report come a distant second (if that high).
The score comes first. I want that “W.” Yup, when it comes to sports, I have no patience for losses or ties, and I don’t want to hear about how we lost but put out a great effort. I want to win. Can’t help it, but that’s where it ends.
This, though, is where public policy politics has changed. Politics has adopted a sports mentality as it applies to public policy, and its practice has become very unproductive and extremely dangerous, irresponsible and all too common.
To make it worse, the game of nonproductivity has become the hallmark of how to defeat your opponent in future elections. Congress sits on legislation, presidential appointments, etc., to embarrass a president, which results in low ratings for the administration. Legislation is brought up on the House or Senate floor that doesn’t have a chance of becoming law, but a vote is ordered to make visible those in opposition and possibly embarrass a political party and painting an issue as “junk.”
Politics has become more about polarizing rather than compromising, mainly because polarizing gets more attention than thoughtful discussion.
I don’t want to come across as idealistic. Politics is a tough, ruthless game, but your efforts shouldn’t be about winning at someone else’s expense. Advocacy isn’t about winning and losing; it’s about achievement. Unfortunately, today’s political climate revolves around a winning and losing culture.
The priority of those elected is to make sure the interests of those not elected are not forgotten. The priority of the majority is to ensure the minority has a voice and isn’t dismissed. The concept of a political party overrunning another is ridiculous.
In a nation about “the people,” to oppose someone purely politically is to ultimately resist oneself.
Before your head explodes, let me continue. We can disagree as long as our disagreement has no ego. I’ve been in many negotiations when the agreement has been “check your ego at the door,” with the ultimate goal of working together to compromise and resolve an issue. Anything short of an agreement is a failure on both sides. Disagree, yes, but to fold one’s arms and simply denotes that one will only be satisfied if one gets his way at someone else’s expense.
I’m all about pursuing my beliefs and debating anyone who doesn’t agree until I drop. But the only way to win is always to seek a resolution that we can all live with. We’ve forgotten this as a nation.
I’m still a fan of the purity of the legislative and regulatory processes, always will be, but there was a time when you could carry the day on Capitol Hill and succeed in your cause in a legislative battle and still ensure those who didn’t had their day at another time.