Whatever Happened to Compromise?

Article excerpt

Cognitive dissonance, a mouthful of a term, describes the holding of two incongruous beliefs in your mind at the same time. It is often linked to politics.

We Americans are particularly vulnerable to it. We want respect for life and we also want freedom of choice. We want to cut taxes and we also want more government services. We want to "live free or die" and we also believe that "there ought to be a law."

I spotted a poignantly amusing example of cognitive dissonance in political and social action this week when animal rights activists in town for World Animal Awareness Week clashed with advocates for AIDS research, which uses animals to test new drugs.

For the progressive-minded Hollywood celebrities who support both causes, the conflict creates something of a ribbon crisis. It has become chic in recent years for Hollywood stars to show their compassion and awareness by sporting red AIDS ribbons and other message ribbons at the Academy Awards and other occasions. What color do they wear now? Stripes?

One of the conflicted stars was Chrissie Hynde, lead singer of the Pretenders, who was one of several scheduled guests at a celebrity dinner. "It's heartbreaking to see this attack on a movement which is based on compassion," she was quoted as saying.

That's just the problem, Chrissie. Both movements are based on compassion. At some point, you have to choose.

That's not always easy. The initial human impulse is to try to have things both ways. Take, for example, the case of young Jason Gardner, 9, in Lynchburg, Va., who had his copy of Rush Limbaugh's "The Way Things Ought to Be" taken away from him during a school reading period in May.

Bruce Bays, his fourth-grade teacher at Montvale Elementary School, said he had confiscated the book after noticing a chapter titled "Condom-Bungee Jumping, the New Diploma." The school supported the teacher's action. Bays said he thought it was inappropriate for a fourth-grader to be talking in class about condoms.

The student's father, Thomas Gardner, sued, claiming his son's free speech rights had been violated. A federal judge on June 3 refused the father's request for an injunction against the school, since the school year was almost over. Even so, Limbaugh fans cheered the kid and his dad for sticking up for the kid's right to read what he wanted. …