Bandit's Banter

Every man ... should periodically be compelled to listen to opinions
which are infuriating to him. To hear nothing but what is pleasing to
one is to make a pillow of the mind.  --John Ervine

The above quote, which I found in a recent edition of Bill Bickel's Comics I Don't Understand page, has been on my mind quite a bit lately.  This is probably because my friend Mike recently accused me of wanting to hear/read only things that I agree with, i.e. things with a (in my opinion) strong positive viewpoint.  And I begin to wonder if he is right?  I have to admit, there are a lot of things I just don't have time for any more: opinions that just rub me the wrong way.  Before, I might have made a fuss about them, and tried to "fight" them, but now, I'm more prone to just ignoring them.  Is this a good thing?  Is my mind turning into a pillow, or is it already there?

Looking at Mr. Ervine's statement above, I am inclined to disagree with the first part of it. Why should I listen to opinions that infuriate me?  Why not just ignore them?

Actually, I must confess, I'm playing a bit of a word game here.  The fact of the matter is, there are very few opinions out there that can honestly be said to "infuriate" me, these days.  The closest thing to opinions that might infuriate me would be those that are strongly negative, e.g. statements that reflect a virulent racist viewpoint, for instance.  But you know, even these opinions probably won't upset me as much as they would in the past, as I now feel a sort of pity for those poor confused souls who'd hold them.  As wrong as racism is, you should not match hate with hate, IMHO.  This is why I'm always a bit put off by Donahue-style TV talk shows which feature racists on the panel for that day.  Self-righteous audience members get up and shout all sorts of invective at the racists.  Yes, racism can be frustrating, but will this sort of thing really change a racist's mind?  Or will it cause them to harden their "us vs. them" mentality?  Just wondering...

 But what about cases in which people hold to a viewpoint which I don't agree with, but which are nowhere near as disagreeable to me as racism.  I oppose capital punishment, maybe you support it.   I am not a vegetarian, maybe you are.  I like to read Stephen King, cheer for the Montreal Canadiens, and listen to Yes, maybe you don't.  I believe in God, maybe you don't.

Problems arise when we decide that those with whom we disagree are fools and idiots, and are every bit as bad as the racists I talked about earlier.  If you're a vegetarian, fine.  If you want to explain why you're a vegetarian, that's fine, too.  But if you decide to throw a bunch of name-calling my way because my diet is different than yours, that's when I ignore you (as you should me, were I to attack you in a similar fashion).  And unfortunately, that does seem to me to be the way we as a society are headed.  We solidify our opinions and snap our minds shut.  Anyone we disagree with is The Enemy, and should be treated as such.

When those who'd think of me as The Enemy start calling me names, does that "infuriate" me?  It used to, but now, it just disappoints me.  I have a new way of looking at things these days: if your opinion is different than mine, and you wish to convince me of its validity, then you'd better be prepared to out-positive me!  If, for instance, you don't believe in God, you waste your time by mocking or scorning my beliefs.  Better to explain how your atheism has enriched your life.  That is what will truly challenge me.  (BTW, if you take a look at wherever you are on the spiritual spectrum, and you find your beliefs, philoshophies, whatever are NOT enriching your life, it may be time to take stock of your situation.... IMHO, of course.)

Don't get me wrong here.  I'm not suggesting that valid criticism of my views is unacceptable, and that's not what I want to shut myself off from.  My point is that if the critics start to say, or insinuate, the notion that "you're an idiot, if you think/support/believe this", then they're wasting my time.

Having said all this, my friend Mike may be somewhat correct in the fact that I can be more narrow-minded than I'd like to be, when it comes to pre-evaluating the opinions of others.  Sometimes I assume negativity where there turns out to be little, or none of it.  All I can do is promise to try and do better.  A positive opinion is pleasing to me, even if it's one I don't agree with.  It means I have to sharpen my arguments to do better than you.  If we try to out-positive one another, we both have a better chance at winning.  If we try to out-negative one another, we both lose.  Or maybe I'm just a dumb pillowhead, who doesn't know what he's on about...

Before I go, I feel I should pay some sort of tribute to the great American actor Carroll O'Connor, who recently passed away.  Mr. O'Connor, of course, was best known for his role as the loudmouthed but lovable bigot Archie Bunker in the groundbreaking 70's TV show All In The Family.  (Note: Archie was lovable in spite of his clueless bigotry, not because of it.) For any of you young pups out there, who've never seen the show before, check it out, if it's on any of your local cable TV stations! This is a show I grew up watching, and it had a definite influence (I feel) in the creation of Bruno the Bandit.  This is a show that tackled all the taboos of the time, and showed us an America that we weren't altogether comfortable with seeing.  Its very boldness and daring (fuelled in no small part by O'Connor himself) is something I try to infuse my strip with.  I say try, because here on the wild frontier known as the Internet, it can be pretty hard to shock people, when anything goes.  But if I can make those of you who read my strip think about what you're reading, as well as laugh, then I'll be happy.