My wife and I arrived in McKinney, TX at the beginning of 2008. Neither of us had been to the DFW Metroplex before we committed to move here, but the office I would be working out of was in McKinney, so we decided to settle here. It didn’t take long to realize that we’d made a good decision. If we had gone to any of the nearby cities or towns, McKinney is where we would have wanted to be. Contrary to what the media has told the world over the last week or so, it’s a great place to live.
People (usually) get along here. It’s the only place I’ve ever lived where almost everyone leaves a parking lot entrance or cross-street open when the light turns red. Folks take pride in the historic downtown and support local merchants and local artists. From the parents’ and students’ perspective, the school district is one of the best. The local community college is growing and expanding. After several years of being ranked the second and third best place to live in the US, we finally made it to number one last year.
Then we had a pool party. Except, based on the number of stories I’ve heard (most of them from people who’ve never even been to Texas), we must have had a dozen or more pool parties here in McKinney, involving several thousand people and hundreds of police officers. That’s the only thing I can figure, anyway, because most of these stories are so varied they can’t possibly be about the same incident.
Despite the many different accounts, most people fall into one of two camps – the cops or the kids – and whichever one they’ve chosen is absolutely right. The other camp, of course, is completely wrong. Talking heads, academics, politicians, civil rights “leaders”, and pundits have all pointed out what this little dustup we had says about our society. It’s too far left, too far right, in a state of anarchy and chaos, it’s a police state, it’s the beginning of the end times, and (here’s a new one) the kids today are out of control and the Republic is doomed.
Nobody has commented, though, on the fact that so few have shown empathy for anyone involved except those they are backing. Even worse, the whole “discussion”, for lack of a better word, mirrors our national dialogue on any subject. No one makes an effort to understand other viewpoints. The conversation seems to always devolve into, “I’m right. You’re wrong. So, you have to change.” It’s sad; it’s scary; and it’s disgusting. But, just imagine if our education system pushed the arts as hard as it pushes science and football.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love a good football game better than anybody, and sports are an important part of education. Math and science are, too, especially in this world we’ve created for ourselves. But so are the arts, whether it’s music, visual arts, or language arts. We learn about ourselves and others, finding common ground with complete strangers and learning to accommodate differences with those who see things another way. Literature, especially (yes, I’m biased), shows us how much we have in common even with those we consider our enemies. It gets us in other peoples’ heads and makes us able to see their points of view. It teaches us that ideas other than ours exist, and that they’re worth considering.
In short, reading teaches us empathy, and it’s hard to stay angry with someone when you understand his motivation, even if you don’t agree with him. What’s easy, though, is to hide behind our electronic devices, watch TV shows about people we identify with, and condemn everyone who disagrees with us as stupid jerks. Then we wonder why things get out of hand so quickly and so often.
I would never, ever want to be the President of the United States, and I’ve about decided that I don’t want to vote for anyone who does. If I found myself seeking that office, though, I think my platform would be a simple one, summed up in my campaign slogan – “Quit your bitching, put down your cellphone, and go read a book.”