Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Talking and Listening

On the way to the gym on Monday, I was listening to Diane Rehm . One of her callers was Jeff, a postal worker who identified himself as "just a guy". He suggested that the census be taken by the people who know the neighborhood best - the mail carriers. He pointed out that they are federal employees who already walk the beat. One of the panelists commented, "from your lips to God's ear" and hoped that someone from the White House was listening to the show.

I had a West Wing moment, imagining Ginger? an intern? sitting in the bullpen outside Sam and Toby's offices listening to Diane's show. Not a picture I could have conjured up a year ago. But somehow it seems possible that in this administration such a thing was heard and noticed and commented upon.

It's nice to feel included, to be talked to as if I might really understand the issues and could actually hold a nuanced thought in my head. When the President or his minions are interviewed, I don't have that awful sinking feeling in my stomach, worrying about how embarrassing their answers are going to be. I find that I can learn something if I pay attention. And better than that, I have the sense that they are listening to us, too.

I really wanted to give President Bush the benefit of the doubt after 9/11. I really did. But he lost me when his call to the country was "Go Shopping". C'mon. For the first time in a long time we were Americans as a whole, not separate states or religions or races or parties. Just Americans. And we loved America in a way we hadn't felt in a long long long long time. Ask us anything when we're in a mood like that; we'll do it. Ask for a sacrifice, issue a call to public service - just tell us where and when to show up. But don't send us to the mall.

In contrast, the first major piece of legislation sent to President Obama's desk was the Senator Edward M Kennedy Serve America Act. For $5.7billion over 5 years more Americans than ever will have the opportunity to work for little or no salary in dangerous or depressing neighborhoods doing work that needs to be done. Whether to feel a sense of accomplishment, extend a helping hand, put retirement's free time to good use or to pad a resume before graduate school there will be no shortage of Americans anxious to participate. We've just been looking for a little encouragement.

It's nice to feel that someone is listening.

(That afternoon, a census taker came to our front door. How weird is that?)

"Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country"

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