My family has lived in several states in the US. We have also traveled through many more. In all of the states we have driven through there were mile markers on the highways and freeways to clearly show us how much further it was to the exit we needed to take. My husband was recently driving with some co-workers in California and pointed out to them that the mile markers in California do not start at state lines, but at county lines, and do not line up with exit numbers. Also, depending on the direction you are going there, they may show mile 1, 2, 3… or mile .5, 1.5, 2.5… Because it was so different to him, he did his research and found out all he could about it when he first noticed it. On this trip, when he started the conversation about it, he was surprised at their responses. Some of these people had lived in the state for their whole lives and were well past middle age. They had never noticed it, or paid attention, or realized that there was this numbering system or that it was so different from other states. They didn’t know what they didn’t know. But now they do.
I listened to a podcast where the host was commenting on the bravery of the new Italian Prime Minister elect, Giorgia Meloni in speaking out for the family. I hadn’t heard of her before I listened to the podcast. I liked the commentary, I liked that she was saying that the family is important. Then I found out that she is the first woman to be elected to this position, and I thought that was fabulous, to have that “glass ceiling” broken. As I started looking into her more, I realized that there was quite a bit of information that was completely left out of or even (I hope unintentionally) incorrect in the podcast I had listened to.
The podcast host had been responding to other people and groups who had been weighing in on this speech she had given. From listening to the podcast, I had been under the impression that this was a recent speech, given after the election, and that she was actually acting as the Prime Minister when she gave it. However, this was not the case. Meloni had spoken at the World Congress of Families in 2019. The podcast host had remarked that she was brave for having said what she said, but speaking in favor of the traditional family at this event is quite different than if she had been speaking to say, parliament, or a mixed group of citizens. Everyone who speaks at this event is speaking in favor of the traditional family. There are many who say the World Congress of Families is a hate group, but having attended the World Congress of Families myself in 2015, I didn’t come away feeling that there was any hate being promoted. It is possible to say that the traditional family is ideal for individuals, children, and society without also hating anyone who doesn’t fit into that ideal. Also, the podcast had implied that she was the Prime Minister when she gave the speech, but she wasn’t. The election she won was the 25th of September, and she was appointed by the President to form a government as the Prime Minister on 22 October 2022. Because of the election, people had dug into her past to bring to light the speech she had given in 2019. Some of those who were jumping in on the trending topic were casting it in a positive light and claiming her as a warrior for the family. Some of the commenters were calling it hate speech and lamenting that she would be the Prime Minister of Italy. As with any politician, there are things in her past that concern some people, and views she holds that can be controversial. She has promised to govern for all Italians. As is the case anywhere in the world when a change in government is happening, the people wait to see what she will do, how she will lead, and what effect her governing will have on their lives.
It is easy, sometimes, to want to be quick to react, to stay on the edge of what is currently trending. It is hard to resist the impulse to share an opinion or jump on the popular topic. We see people judged based on sound bites and hope that we ourselves are not judged so harshly.
There are people whom I admire because they unabashedly speak what they believe. They know that there will be opposition; there will be people who disagree with them, and in today’s culture, may even say that what they are saying is hateful or offensive just because it isn’t what they want to hear. Still, they stand and represent their cause and their belief with conviction. They are inspiring, even when I don’t agree with their viewpoint; I can respect their courage and commitment. I also don’t want to live in an echo chamber. I don’t want to be so insecure in my beliefs that I can’t listen to someone else’s without feeling offended by differences or that I’m being attacked. We do not all have to agree on everything to be able to respect each other and get along. If we take the time to listen, we may even find out something we didn’t know we didn’t know.
Jane Goodall famously said, “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference. You just have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” I want to make a positive difference. I think most people who spend any amount of time thinking about this idea also want to make a positive difference. I am not naïve enough to think that “positive” would mean the same thing for me as it does for everyone else. I also do not think that everyone who is actively trying to influence society is doing it for altruistic reasons. We are each inspired by different motives. Without worrying about what motives anyone else may have, I can focus on myself and be brave to speak what I know to be true without worrying about anyone who might disagree with me. I can work to learn and be informed to consider issues from all sides before reacting. I might even learn something I didn’t know I didn’t know, and you might too.