In Bruce’s world, there are only two people at a time and only two answers to every question. In his parable, there is a winner (Tim) and a loser (Jay). Then Grandmother comes along with her peg leg. She completes the race and comes in – you get it – second. That’s a “feel good” word for “loser” in this two-person race. In Bruce’s world, Jay is tossed aside. It’s not Grandma that tosses Jay aside. Rather it is the race itself (Bruce’s metaphor for society).
In the real world, there are many people in the race and it is likely that grandmother – with her 100 year old lungs and peg leg – will ALWAYS finish last. In Bruce’s story; “second” felt good, but in the real world “250th” or 1,000,000th doesn’t feel good at all.
We tell our young people, “You can be anything you want to be.” That is wrong. Clearly, Grandma will never win the foot race.
We need to find a better narrative.
There will always be winners and losers. In a compassionate society, winners are obligated to give back to society so that losers can be “the best that they can be,” because none of us can be “anything we want to be,” including the winners.
That seems to be the real difference between conservative and liberal thought – especially in these political times when both camps are so deeply polarized. The conservative blames everything on the Jays. The jays don’t want to win. The jays don’t even try. The liberal acknowledges the Grandmas. The Grandmas try. They may even finish the race. But it’s often dead last.
Extremist conservatives want to reward the winners – as if winning is not reward enough – and punish the losers. In their narrative all winners are Tims and all losers are Jays. Grandma is considered a winner of sorts, but she needs to learn to enjoy her peg leg position in society. The Jays are merely thrown away.
Extremist liberals seem to want to punish the winners and reward the losers. In their narrative all winners are Tims and all losers are Grandmas with peg legs, including the Jays. They also assert that the Jays are products of their environment and thus a responsibility of society.
I would like to see both conservative and liberal thought move back towards the middle. Let’s reward the Tims but let’s make it clear that with those rewards come social obligations. Let’s help the Grandmas. Remember, without the Grandmas there would be no Tims. And finally, let’s create a social and educational climate that translates Jays into Grandmas or – heaven forbid - Tims.
Neither conservatives nor liberals can do this alone. That has been blatantly obvious since 2006. Like the Tims and Grandmas, conservatives and liberals need each other. They need to learn work together. They need to recover the art of compromise. They need to realize that most problems have many right answers and that only the right and the left – working together – can come up with anything resembling the best answer.