Thursday, April 12, 2007
Polarization, Positions and Presentations
In January 2006 I began blogging about a need to “Bridge the Gap” between seemingly polarized and disparate points of view within the post-adoption community.
Once we were all the adoption reform community. We aligned, albeit with differences, around the common goals of: search, reunion, support, and open records. As with any grassroots movement there have always been disagreements, mostly concerning political strategies even among those clumped under the label “adoption reformers”. Bastard Nation takes a hard line on one end of the open records debate. Some mothers’ organizations take a different hard line, only wanting legislation that opens the records to all parties of the adoption. Still others are of the belief that any open records legislation is better than none, and still others at varying points on the continuum of what they will or will not support in proposed legislation. Rather than a solid wall defining and separating positions, there is far more permeable doorway.
This is true in movements other than adoption. If you look at even the most seemingly contentious issue allegedly “dividing” our nation – pro-life vs pro-choice – you see it even there. Look beyond the rhetoric and speak to INDIVIDUALS. When I do, I find that the vast majority who define themselves as pro-choice – those who the opposition to that position would like to define as “pro abortion” – are far from being arbitrarily PRO abortion! They believe it is a right that should not be taken lightly, overused to abused. When I speak to those who identify themselves as pro-life – those whom others may define as anti-abortion – I find that there are moderates there too; those who make exceptions for special circumstances such as rape or incest.
The old familiar bell curve we all learned about in school is true for all issues. The vast majority of people are somewhere within the continuum, with far fewer at the extreme ends, and a few extremely extreme “outliers.”
It is important to remember these ‘rules’ of human opinion formation. They are flexible, flowing, changing…not hard-fast and static. Many times people have a hard time putting themselves into one category or another because the “label” – or the perceived impression that identification carries with it. This is true of political and religious positions, as well as the types of examples discussed herein.
And so, I no longer see a gap needing to be bridged, as if some of us were on one side of a great divide, and the rest on the other. When we get past the rhetoric we find that the distance between us is far more penetrable, or at least I do! I find often that rather than a polarizing opposite position, it is far more about the way the position is being PRESENTED.
Digging deeply into Jessica’s antiadoption.org for instance - if you can navigate to her FAQ page (not immediately apparent) - you find the bottom line answer to questions such as: Do you really think there should be NO adoption at all? What about orphans? Are they better off in institutions? Do you think even abusive parents should maintain custody? There, in the depths of her webpages is the answer:
“In the tragic event that no extended family members can be found to care for a truly abused child, legal guardianship is an honest option that already exists in America. The child in a guardianship arrangement is able to maintain his or her name and identity, and is not forced to live with a set of falsified birth records.”
This is becoming a far more acceptable position among some who once believed adoption could be “opened” and have became disheartened to see open adoptions become an unenforceable farce, for the most part. And so, it is not so much a polarity of POSITION, as it is in the way the position is presented; or the political strategy that separates us.
Last night, at an anti-Safe Haven event I felt the need to physically separate myself from Jessica and her adorable children, when her little girl began waving a sign high above her head that said simply “ADOPTION HURTS CHILDREN.” I am of the firm belief that you have to meet people half way and show some courtesy and, yes, even agreement with them on SOME level to have them even hear, let alone listen, to ANYTHING you have to say.
There is a great deal of truth and wisdom in the cliché ”you only get one chance to make a first impression.” Few people walk up to the man on the street corner carrying sign proclaiming “The End is Near” with any intention of having a meaningful enlightening conversation about his religious beliefs.
Perception and the words we use are very important. That is why we have the terms pro-life and pro-choice. Pro-lifers were EXTREMELY savvy when they chose not to call themselves anti-abortion! In just that simply labeling of their cause they positioned themselves to be all about saving precious, innocent “unborn” victims rather than being opposed to a woman’s right to control her body! In just one word! How cool is that! Liberals/progressives, lagging behind as usual in the “art” of using language creatively, followed suit and called their movement pro-choice, for certainly they are not anti-life!
For myself, I am no more anti-adoption than pro-choicers are anti-life. When I have the time to give a complete explanation of my positions, as I have done on this blog (Saturday, March 17, 2007 Q & A) and elsewhere...I explain that I am against adoption “as it is currently practiced in the US.” I am against secrets and lies, starting with the falsification of one’s birth certificate. And I am firmly against money in adoption. I find that many of my old “reformer” friends and cohorts are on the same page. It is a position that for me, and many of us, requires a more complex answer, not a simple yes or no/ for or against answer.
And so, while Jessica begins with her hardest hit first, and others of us would not...underneath it all, we are really not far apart at all in our BELIEFS...only in how we approach and present it.
I am of the firm belief that to be openly anti-adoption is political suicide and will continue to distance myself from those who are because I firmly believe that it closes down all further communication rather than opening it. One should not – IMHO – have to dig through page after page to discover what it means to be anti-adoption, and what is being proposed in place of it.
Family preservation, on the other hand, is not at all difficult to understand or embrace by ANYONE! I know of no one involved in post adoption who is not pro-Family Preservation, or for that matter few people in the nation or world. It is not more radical than UNICEF. Family Preservation not some newly contrived "newspeak" or code for anything other than exactly what is it: providing the support, education and resources for families to remain intact. Family preservation is a long-standing goal of many of us. It is maintaining family cohesiveness and integrity to the fullest extent possible.
I feel a collective shift taking place. Instead of trying to bridge the gap between the ideological extremes, I see the vast majority of us in the same boat. Some of us are sitting on the left side of the boat, some the center or the right. But we're on the same boat just as we always were on the same reform boat... with slight differences. The course is veering slightly to the left of it's original reform stance of merely "opening" adoption to a realization that there is far more wrong with adoption than opening records or so-called open adoption alone will ever fix. Many are becoming aware that you can no longer simply ask: are you anti-adoption? but rather where on the anti-adoption continuum do you stand? We are asking one another: Are you against ALL adoptions...what do you propose we replace it with? These are the new questions being asked and requiring each of us to formulate our own thinking and new decisions around.
As always, your thoughts welcomed.