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posted: 6/20/2013 9:44 AM

A reminder of perspective and personal debate

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I just got off the phone with a good guy.

And he was an Illinois lawmaker.

And I suspect that on matters of social, political or fiscal policy, a Venn diagram showing the overlap of his ideas and mine would look like a fingernail at the nexus of two hula hoops.

And I also suspect that he is far more representative of the makeup of the legislature in his good-guy-ness, male or female, than we generally tend to think.

And I wonder what it is about us human beings that so inclines us toward depersonalizing and demeaning each other when we disagree.

And I also wonder why I am so reluctant to write this column. Do I fear I may lose my membership card in the Official Skeptics Club?

Indeed I do. For some time, I've been steeped in discussions about Illinois' pension mess -- and to some extent I guess it comes with the territory of debating any controversial issue as editorial page editor -- so, I tend to deal with a lot of emotional hyperbole, my own as well as that of others.

And every once in a while, I'll have a conversation that reminds me that sometimes it's important for us all to just step back, take a deep breath and gather ourselves. That's not to say we should slow down on the road to solution in a time of crisis, but I do think it's important to accurately reflect on the nature of those clamoring for space on the highway there with us.

As a case in point, the pension debate certainly serves well enough. So much of that discussion revolves around an assessment of who's being greedy ... who's being selfish ... who's being power hungry ... who's being short-sighted ... who's being intelligent, who stupid ... who is hypocritical, who consistent ... who doesn't know or understand the past ... who, in short, is not as "good" as "I" am.

And we all seem to have this unspoken sense that all of those questions will be answered in votes under the Capitol dome. We certainly know intellectually that that is not the case, yet we cling to our de-sensitizing with the ardor of a sports fan who revels in the notion that his team, which just won the game on a wild last-second shot, is The Best. The outcome confirms our bias, and we're comfortable enough with that.

There is, I know, no getting around some of these assessments. Some political battles indeed are about power. Some are about greed. Some ideas are wiser than others. Some are better reasoned.

But very few tilt all to one side, and fewer still are the individuals whose intentions, skills or contributions can be classified without qualification as selfless/selfish, wise/stupid, consistent/hypocritical, perceptive/dull-witted, sensitive/uncaring or in any other way unswervingly "good" or "bad."

As I write this, lawmakers in Springfield are locked in the difficult chore of trying to finesse an effective and equitable solution to a complicated and deeply personal crisis. If they continue to prove unequal to the task, I'm quite certain that I'll feel no small measure of disappointment, even disgust, and I'll consider it important to reflect those feelings in my discussions with our editorial board and in the assessment of the outcome through Daily Herald editorials.

But at the same time, I'll still remember a conversation I had today with a good guy who disagrees with me.

And I hope that helps me, and our editorials, keep all this in perspective. It may or may not keep us in the Skeptics Club, but hopefully it will keep us in one that's more important.

Jim Slusher, jslusher@dailyherald.com, is an assistant managing editor at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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