Maria Gutzeit: Generalization leads to bad policy

SCV Voices: Guest Commentary
SCV Voices: Guest Commentary

I was crushed when Hillary Clinton lost the election. But, after talking to a former high-level Republican official, I now think some good might come from the election of Donald Trump.

If either of those statements made you cringe, that, in my opinion, is the biggest issue of all.

Generalization is the death knell of civil discourse. This election, and so many other policy debates, have become all-or-nothing flame-throwing matches. We are smarter than that.

Many people have a mix of friends with different backgrounds and different political views. Understanding and empathy grow with each person you know.

Though I’m a lifelong Democrat, some Democrats deride me because I support business and the skilled trades. I’m a big fan of jobs – the kind that come from laying down roads and putting up steel. The kind that involves trucks moving cargo, services being provided, and goods being produced.

Yet Democrats are said to be anti-business. Vocal Democrats deride “big business” and scream that business owners are “crooks.”

So is it true that Democrats are anti-business? That generalization is wrong.

I have many Republican friends in town who really wish their party would get off the issue of women’s reproductive rights. Yet their party puts their elected officials in the middle of the issue, and some of Donald Trump’s comments about punishing women who had an abortion made his view pretty clear.

Are Republicans bad for women? That generalization is wrong.

Some environmentalists’ stated goals are to stall new projects, be it an office park or a utility corridor, to make it so expensive that it becomes financially infeasible.

We see huge protests as evidence of what environmentalists believe. Yet other groups, such as the Nature Conservancy, work hard to continue allowing human use for places, be it grazing or fishing or mining, while working on long-term plans for the people of an area.

Is it true that environmentalists don’t care about people’s livelihoods or the economy? That generalization is wrong.

The worst generalization is that politicians are crooks and liars. You may be smirking at that statement, but I bet you know at least one elected official for whom you’d make an exception.

For every one that is plastered all over the news for doing some hideous thing, there is another lying in bed at night fretting about how to do the right thing, even if he or she suffers the consequences.

Generalizing about the best system on earth – representative government – is wrong and harmful for progress.

Yes, there are bad actors. Yes, stupid things happen. Yes, there are plenty of decisions and positions that a whole bunch of us won’t like at all.

Rather than cursing it all, blaming everyone else, and resorting to the ease of generalizing about what is the right way and what is the wrong way, how about we step up, constructively, to make lasting change?

Staking our future on elections that happen every four years is folly. It’s a complex system that Gov. Jerry Brown once said “isn’t as bad as you think, but is more complex than you know.”

And there are plenty of downright false information sources to confuse us, even if we did try to study. Then there’s the problem of generalizing that one party or the other will do “the right thing.”

Perhaps “our party” will do more things we like, but we all have the same goals in mind: strong economy, healthy community, happy families. There are many paths to get there.

What’s “your issue”? Maybe it’s health care costs, climate change or jobs. Move beyond generalizations to learn, in depth, the issues, the solutions and the concerns of proponents and opponents alike.

Nothing is “good” or “bad.” No answer is right or wrong. Policy is not binary. We can’t wait until “our people” are in office.

We would all be more impactful by talking to each other respectfully and continuously. Every single positive change we have had – from scientific advancements to equality to educational systems to transportation networks – has happened because people pressed forward.

Folks worked past oppositions, modified approaches and compromised. Lasting change isn’t because of whom we elect (though it can certainly be two steps forward and three steps back) but results from how we change as a people.

By becoming informed on the issues we care about, and aligning with like-minded people, we have more of an impact than just rolling the dice on the second Tuesday of November.

Maria Gutzeit is a mom, engineer, business owner and elected official in Santa Clarita.

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