Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "The Expression of Our Commitment"

This poem was written outside the regular prompt calls, inspired by going to vote and shared here as a contribution to civic discourse. It also fills the "conflict resolution style" square in my 8-1-16 card for the Group Dynamics and Character-Building Bingo.


"The Expression of Our Commitment"


Stan and Lawrence lounged
in the great room of Stan's house,
the windows open to catch
the soft summer breeze.

"Are you coming to the town meeting
tonight?" Stan asked. "It's going to be
a good one -- we're talking about
computer access in public places."

"Nah," Lawrence said, lazily
turning the page in his book. He
wanted to find out whether or not
Joshua would work up the nerve
to kiss the adorable Norman.

"Why not?" Stan said. "Come on,
it's right up your alley. You love
computers. Besides, if you don't
get any practice, the election won't
make much sense this fall."

Lawrence shrugged. "It's boring,
and I've got more important
things to do," he said.

"I know you were in Voter Education
with me in spring, because we both
took Driver Ed last fall," Stan said.
"Why did you even take the class
if you didn't intend to vote local?"

"Because it's a preq for
Issues in Science and Civics,
which I want to take this fall,
duh," said Lawrence. "I didn't
take it because I cared about it."

"Okay," Stan said slowly,
which made Lawrence sit up.
That tone always worried him.

"What did I do wrong?" Lawrence said.

"Can I make a bid to change your mind?"
Stan asked, leaning toward him.

That was one of the things that
they'd worked out, in the interest
of not fighting all the time: when
they disagreed, either of them
could ask if the other's stance
was firm or open to negotiation.

Lawrence thought about it.

He didn't want to attend a bunch
of boring, pointless meetings and
he didn't have fond memories
of sitting through Voter Ed class.

He also didn't want Stan
to get that kicked-puppy look,
or start an argument over civics
or elections or whatever else.

"I don't know," Lawrence said.
"I'm nowhere near as interested
in this stuff as you are, Stan."

"I wasn't all that interested in science
until I got involved with you, and I'm thinking
about taking Issues in Science and Civics
with you this fall," Stan countered.

"Why?" Lawrence asked, bewildered.
"Are you just that desperate to take
every class with me that you can?"

Stan chuckled. "No, I'm not desperate,
although I do enjoy your company," he said.
"Lawrence, this is your superpower. I need
to know enough about science and ethics
that I can back you up when you need me."

What he didn't say, but Lawrence could
read between the lines, was that the same
applied to Lawrence understanding the things
that Stan could do and cared about.

"I just really hated Voter Ed," said Lawrence.
"That was the boringest class ever."

"It wasn't very fun, or effective," Stan agreed.

"I wasn't expecting you to admit that,"
Lawrence said. "I thought you'd defend it."

Stan shook his head. "The teacher didn't do
a very good job of engaging people or showing
them how voting ties into their own interests."

"What makes you say that?"
Lawrence wondered.

"I could've taught that class myself,
probably by the time I was ten," Stan said,
"and I would have done a better job of it.
I just took it to get the paperwork filed.
Why'd you think I kept helping out?"

"I thought you were bored," Lawrence said.

"Well yeah, that too," Stan said, "but also,
I could see people were floundering and
I wanted to help. You could've asked."

"Like I said, boring," Lawrence repeated.
"Why does this matter so much to you?"

"Voting is the expression of our commitment,"
Stan said. "It's about how we see ourselves as
citizens, the connections between each other, then
each of us to our community, and to the wider world.
Voting is a statement about what kind of world we
want to live in, and a step in that direction."

Whew, that was big. Lawrence shivered.
When Stan got all passionate about things
like this, it made the hairs stand up on his neck.

Lawrence realized that this issue was
a lot more important to Stan than it was to him,
and if he cared about Stan, then he had
better figure out why pretty quick.

"You can bid," Lawrence said.

"Thanks," Stan said. "Give me
a minute to lay it out in my head."

"Sure, take your time," Lawrence said.
"We're not on the chess clock now."

Stan smiled for him, warm and sweet,
and yeah, that was Lawrence's reason
for putting up with the boring stuff.

Lawrence watched as Stan pulled
a few books from a nearby shelf and
leafed through them, then looked up
something on his tablet computer.
He sure was taking this seriously.

"Okay, here's my bid," Stan said at last.
"I'll help you catch up on voting principles,
and show you how that relates to things
you already care about. You give me
three causes or interests, and I'll look for
supporting materials that connect to them.
You agree to attend three town meetings,
and after that, we'll talk about the election."

"And if I'm not hooked?" Lawrence asked.

Stan sighed. "Then I'll drop the topic
for at least a year," he promised.

Lawrenced weighed three evenings
of probable misery against a year's peace.
He was less concerned about the study time,
because time spent with Stan was never wasted.

Stan was watching him like a puppy
waiting for table scraps to fall off a plate.

"Okay," Lawrence said. "I accept
your bid, and I'll try to pay attention."

Puppy-with-bacon look.

Yeah, that was worth it, even if
the town meetings turned out stultifying.

"Give me some causes," Stan said.

"Queer rights and science,"
Lawrence said easily, and then
had to stop and think about more.

"Soup rights?" Stan suggested.
"That concerns both of us."

"No -- well, yeah, but I don't think
it's likely to come up this summer,"
Lawrence said. "It's a valid interest,
but probably too obscure for this context.
You want things they might actually
talk about in a meeting, right?"

"Right," Stan said. "What else?"

"I'm not sure what to call it,"
Lawrence said, mulling over parts
of civic classes that hadn't sucked.
"Something like civil engineering or
town facilities, maybe? Stuff that
you can do or get in the area."

He'd relied on that enough to care
about whether it was available.

"Community resources," Stan said
with a confident nod. "Sure, I can
work with that, it comes up a lot."
He tilted his head. "Deal?"

"Deal," Lawrence agreed.

Stan leaned over and kissed him,
soft and sweet. "Thank you
for listening to me."

Maybe this project wouldn't be
a total disaster, after all.

* * *

Notes:

"Voting is the expression of our commitment to ourselves, one another, this country and this world."
-- Sharon Salzberg

This is where Stan lives with his family. See the exterior and the main floor.

Voter education is a subset of civic education, so they're often taught together. Here are some lessons.

In T-America, Voter Education follows the same model as Driver's Education. Students who choose to take the class in high school can register to vote in local elections at 16. Without that, everyone becomes eligible to vote in all elections at 18. Teens are strongly encouraged, though not required, to take the class and learn about politics before getting dumped into the deep end of the pool. Summer intensives may be offered for students who missed or failed the class during the main school year. Schools that don't have a separate class usually include a voting unit in Civics instead.

Voting and civics are also taught in grade school through such methods as student councils, school improvements, and games. In some districts, the president of the student council sits in on meetings of the School Board and/or Parent-Teacher Organization to provide youth input. This gives students a chance to learn how voting and politics work on a very small scale before trying to handle a larger one.

The same people who teach and provide materials for Voter Education classes in high school usually offer resources for adult voters as well. This includes campaign information for candidates, party platforms, special issues, and so forth. They may present basic classes for people who missed VE in high school, along with more advanced ones for experienced voters wanting to deepen their understanding.

There is a whole string of classes aimed at teaching people about laws which affect them. Junior high and high schools typically offer something like Civic Law or Citizen Law along with the more general Civics or Citizenship. This resource on Street Law and its best practices page are typical of T-American offerings.

Civic responsibility is a sense of duty from citizen to society. It correlates strongly to certain personality traits, and in this regard, Stan will always resonate more than Lawrence does. However, it also relates to lived experience, and the empowerment gap has an overwhelming influence; if the social contract fails to deliver, then the sense of civic duty drops measurably. Stan's experiences support civic engagement, while Lawrence's experiences have largely undermined that. Unlike personality traits, which are fixed or at least highly resistant to change, social experiences are much more malleable. Just being around Stan has changed Lawrence's experiences enough for him to have second thoughts, which gives Stan an opening to expand on that. Here are some tips on teaching civic responsibility through example.

Science and civics go hand in hand. This includes many topics such as math, health care, and wildlife management. Browse some options for connecting science with civics.

Disagreement is an inevitable part of relationships. It poses the most challenge for couples divided over ideological issues such as politics, spirituality, or finances. Stan and Lawrence started out on opposite sides of cape politics, but Lawrence has been drifting steadily toward the white side, while Stan is learning to be a little more flexible about what things are considered "okay." A healthy relationship needs a fluent process for conflict resolution.

Another aspect of healthy relationships is that the partners adapt to each other. You can see more of this in the last year of Stan/Lawrence than many conventional couples ever achieve. My partner and I have spent two decades on this and are still learning. But Stan has the advantage of a good education in personal dynamics plus a good family life, which is more than most people get here and more than Lawrence got there. One person can teach the other if both are willing. While there are many strategies for changing someone's mind, one of the best is to change yourself. These are vital skills for becoming a better life partner. The key is that even though a great relationship may not always feel great, it should help you be your best self.

Therefore, arguing and fighting fair are crucial relationship skills. You also need to understand how to win and lose gracefully. Stan and Lawrence are learning how to analyze, troubleshoot, and make plans so they don't keep having the same fight over and over. If I could name one skill I have found most useful in maintaining a long-term relationship, this would be in the top three.

I couldn't find a description for anything like this in L-American resources.  So here is my best attempt at the parameters for the bid trick:
1) Recognize that you and your partner are disagreeing over something significant.
2) Determine whether your stances are fixed or potentially flexible. Consent matters; if you harangue someone who doesn't want to budge, you will not convince them, just frustrate everyone.
3) One partner (or both) may make a bid to change the other's mind. This requires that you understand your position and do the work of framing it so it's easy for your partner to grasp. Your partner agrees to listen with an open mind and do the work of exploring the topic you present. Expectations, measuring points, and discussion points should be included as best you can. Realize that "I will listen to your ideas I currently disagree with" is one of the biggest "I love you" expressions in the book.
4) Play it out.
5) If you come to an agreement, celebrate!
6) Have an exit plan. Often you won't be able to change someone's mind, and you'll need to work on agreeing to disagree instead. In any case, it's advisable to table the topic for a while. Your partner should get something in exchange for entertaining your ideas.
7) Remember that you love each other. Plan a bonding activity whether or not you wind up agreeing on this topic.
Tags: activism, cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, poem, politics, reading, romance, weblit, writing
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