Last Friday, April 15, I was invited to and attended a South Atlanta Tea Party meeting. Though I didn't necessarily agree with all the Tea Party stands for, I opted to go, as it would be educational and could challenge and sharpen my own beliefs.

The event featured four speakers who promoted their beliefs on a variety of topics, including taxes, government spending and the Islamic threat. After the speakers concluded, audience members were allowed to mingle with the speakers. I would have like to talk with them all, but focused my attention on a man I could relate to, a veteran and former government employee.

Having just gone through the scare of potentially losing my job due to the lack of a Congressional budget to fund the rest of the 2011 Fiscal Year, I wanted to see if he agreed with the chants echoed in the rally to shut the government down. Did he agree with these sentiments and did he still have friends employed in the government facing a job loss' I figured if nothing else, speaking with him face-to-face would at least put a personality and face onto a group of people who have been made out to be demons bringing down our country by many members of the ultra-conservative right and their followers.

I give the man a lot of credit. Despite my friendly challenge and questions to him, he was very courteous. Unlike my experience calling the Sean Hannity radio show, this man never tried to cut me off, call me names or come to illogical conclusions. But one thing he did not exhibit, which was frustrating to me, was the inability to tear down the walls of ignorance he had built around himself and his opinions. I began the conversation by introducing myself as a government employee and asking his opinion on the government shutdown. He told me if private sector citizens were losing their jobs, why shouldn't government employees.

He then asked me what I did as a government employee. I replied that I worked at Fort McPherson as a DA Civilian, to which he replied that I would not have lost my job. Begging to differ, I told him I had received notice that I was nonessential and had the government shut down, I would have been furloughed. He told me I was wrong and that DoD employees never get furloughed. I asked how he could say that when I had notice I would be. Were my commander and supervisor lying to me' Why was he right when people actively involved in the process were saying the opposite'

His responses quickly began shooting off in different directions, like a man rapidly firing a gun trying in vain to hit a target. Even if I got laid off, I would have received back pay, he said. Nope, that's not how being furloughed worked. Well, I was only getting laid off because I wasn't a federal employee for a long time. Nope, time in service has nothing to do with determining a person's essential nature, it has all to do with position.

Our conversation didn't go on much longer. He thanked me for talking with him and walked off to engage another person waiting. The disagreements we held were not an issue. Like the Bible says, one man sharpens another just as iron sharpens iron.

Like I alluded to earlier, the exchange of ideas among others helps sharpen and reform ideas and beliefs. In a logical, courteous debate between open minded people willing to listen, poor thinking is cut down, allowing only the best ideas to stand up on their own merit. I believe this is what our founding fathers had in mind when they gave us free speech.

Free speech gives us all a right to express our ideas. But at the same time it carries the responsibility to know that your ideas can also be scrutinized. The issue I had was with the ignorance of the issues and unwillingness to change one's opinion when presented with facts.

No one person knows everything and it is important to always seek out knowledge and be willing to adapt one's position when the facts run counter to beliefs. It is only when one does so that they become a better person and are thus able to make their surroundings better. Better people make a better world. How are things getting better if we never question the messages sent to us to see if they are truth or not' How can a speaker go in front of an audience, tell the audience they have the answers and rally them, when some simple digging shows the speaker really doesn't have all the answers' And likewise, how can some people be so ignorant that they only believe what they want to hear even if easily proven false'

Perhaps that's where the real problems in our country are stemming from. It is all too easy to let others do our thinking for us. Too many of us are busy just trying to make ends meet that we allow con men and hucksters to tell us what to believe. It is understandable that we all have lives and can't devote the time or resources to looking things up as some powerful media personalities, but it doesn't take much to be involved.

No matter which party, affiliation, church or group one belongs to, next time a leader opens their mouths and says they have all the answers, don't take it at face value. Chances are, if one opens their minds just a bit they can see something easily proven false or other examples of faulty logic at play. If someone lies or distorts the little things, how can they be trusted with the big things. Our founding fathers gave us the chance to be free men and women. Let's exercise that right and be free thinkers. Don't drink the Kool-Aid.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16