I’ll have whatever she’s having

In the movie “When Harry Met Sally,” the two main characters are having dinner in a nice restaurant. Harry comments that women aren’t capable of faking their most intimate ecstasies. Sally responds by moaning, sighing and passionately shouting “Yes, yes!” while calmly sitting in her chair at the table. An elderly lady sitting a few tables away listens with her mouth open and eyes wide. When the waiter asks for her order, the woman replies, “I’ll have whatever she’s having!”

I wonder if sometimes we all don’t listen to the latest sound bites about politics, the economy, or government, and say, “I’ll have what she’s having.” Without thinking further than the emotional reaction to what someone else is saying, we say, “That’s right! I agree with that.”

Just the other day, I answered the phone. A very pleasant woman asked me to support the efforts of the Internet Innovation Alliance. The non-profit, she said, advocates for nation wide access to broadband internet services, especially for those of us living in rural areas. Somewhere in the midst of passionately citing the importance of high speed mobile broadband and internet service in rural America she slipped a plea for joining this “non-profit’ in supporting the proposed merger between AT&T & T-Mobile. That made me a little suspicious. What does this merger, which would create a virtual monopoly in cellular phone and data services, have to do with high speed internet access in rural areas? When I asked who provided the funding for this “non-profit” which was so concerned about the speed of my internet service, the young woman, obviously working in a call center somewhere, couldn’t tell me. She seemed surprised when I told her I would not add my support to any position that I knew so little about. I also refused to allow my name to be used by a non-profit whose mission and backers who were not identified.

I researched the non-profit. They are funded by AT&T, T-Mobile and other big-time telecommunication providers. Do they have a genuine interest in making sure those of us who live in rural North Dakota have access to the internet and mobile braodband? If so, why is it that AT&T service just became available in North Dakota this year? How will  the merger of two telecommunications giants change the fact that I can’t use a cell phone at my farm or in any number of places between here and anywhere else? Maybe someone can explain to me how a near monopoly can “provide increased competition and improved service.”  Will this be the same kind increased competition that we have with air travel in rural areas since the airlines were deregulated?

This is only one of the many letters, phone calls, emails, Facebook requests I receive asking me to support some cause or another. Save the whales. End deficit spending. Abolish property taxes. Cut income taxes. Raise taxes on the rich. Oppose the EPA, FDA, USDA. Support the NRA, the Tea Party, the Republicans, the Democrats, Pro-Life, Pro-Choice. And sometimes I hear the passionate cries of the spokespeople for these positions and I am moved to say, “I’ll have what she’s having.”  I don’t ask what the consequences are, who’s saying it, what are the pollsters vested interests, who paid for the advertisement or the survey.

When I dig deeper and think further about what some of the policies and positions I am being asked to support mean for the greater good, I wish I hadn’t said, “Yes! Of course, I agree!” If a group can simplify a complex argument down to a passionate sound bite, isn’t it possible that they are deliberately leaving out some important information? Am I being manipulated by the passionate moans and exclamations? What policies are being lobbied for or against? Are the questions well designed to generate real information or are they written to solicit a specific answer? Does the person(s) paying for the advertisement or survey have a less than obvious agenda? What will they gain or lose? What will our country as a whole gain or lose? What will be the effect on those who do not have the money or political clout to make their position heard? Do I even really agree with what is being promoted?

Finding the answers to all these questions takes time and careful thought. Rarely do I know enough about all the issues about which I am being asked my opinion by pollsters. Certainly, I can’t do the research while the nice person on the phone holds the line. They rarely know the answers to my questions and even seem surprised to be asked for more information.

I really must try to remember my resolution to not answer polls or surveys, regardless of how flattered I am to have someone actually ask for my opinion or how passionately they phrase the questions. I really must try to keep from too quickly responding, “I’ll have what you’re having!”

Copyright © 2011 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains

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