It’s Not Them, It’s Me

I listened to President Barack Obama’s speech in Tucson last night — after reading it online.  I’ll admit it:  I cried.

Naturally.  The words he used last night hit all of my cognitive reward centers:  humility, empathy, listening, love, family, children, partner, future, better, community, hope.

Hope.  Barack Obama always did have me at hope.  I elected this man because I knew he would be the Dad In Chief:  the leader who is also a father, one who continues to aspire to the hopes and dreams of his own (and indeed all) children.

I loved the President’s speech.  I wanted to celebrate it.  So I went to Wordle, and made an image of the most frequently used words in the full text of the speech.

This is lovely enough, but it is not what I remember.  Where is empathyHumility?  Why isn’t hope bigger?

My own surprise on this visual result got me thinking.

So I decided to make my view of the overall discourse fair.  I listened to Sarah Palin’s comments on the same event (posted here).  Predictably, her remarks bothered me:  there is something about her voice, her tone, that I have never found appealing.  She has always sounded quite preachy to me.

But I wanted to make a Wordle for her as well.  Again, this is not what I remember hearing:

I remembered hearing blood.  Where is the blood?  Was I wrong about what she said?

This was upsetting, and not the picture I want.  I tried doing an edit of both speeches, just the second part of each:

Edit of Obama's speech: Beginning, "Our hearts are broken ..."

Edit of Palin remarks: Beginning, "The last election was all about ..."

Whether or not the second results got me closer to the image I wanted to build of each public person is not the point.  The point is that I wanted to edit those words — his and hers — to better remember, and prove, the parts that confirmed for me who I think each of those people is.

Of course, I get to do this.  I’m a writer; I have the right to edit what I post here.  But I also understand that every word I take away from the full text of what each of them has prepared changes the truth of what both President Obama and Sarah Palin meant to say.  The President worked on his speech all night Tuesday, Palin on her remarks for several days.

What gives me the right to make either of these people more like the Anne Version of themselves?

Perhaps my problem is not in my leaders, or their positions, but in my perception of them.

In me.

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4 responses to “It’s Not Them, It’s Me

  1. I must be further gone than you, because I saw what I wanted to see even in the Wordles you made, even in the ones from the two full speeches. Palin’s was full of evil, Republic [I’ll add the “an”] violence, and Obama’s was all about believing and making people’s lives.

    But at least you forced me to own up to my biases, and that’s a good thing. Thanks for the thoughtful and thought-provoking post.

    • Robin, good point.

      Even when I look at the two from a distance, the big “just” in his compared with the big “must” in hers stands out.

      His tone was open, questioning, tentatively hopeful, even a bit celebratory (of the lives we lost and those that continued, especially where others had helped to save them). Hers was directive: we must do this, do that …

      I can’t wait to put my own work into Wordle. See which words *I* use too much.

  2. Thanks, my friend. 🙂

    I just didn’t expect that I would *want* the distortion. Ever had the feeling you’ve been inside your own country for a touch too long?

    Yeah. I’m there.

    (BTW, hope all is well with you and yours at home.)

  3. I don’t think it’s what is said that matters, Anne, but what you hear. What you hear is coloured by your history, your experience and your circumstances and may bear little resemblance to the words spoken. The words are usually about 10% of the total message, after all.

    Nor do I believe there’s any reason to doubt yourself in these circumstances… the other people in the debate have the luxury of not thinking as much as you do. There’s little value in self-flagellation, especially if you’re the only one doing it, and likely to attract derision from those looking on.

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