Words Matter

Yesterday, in case you missed it, Robert Downey Jr. walked out of a TV interview that was supposed to be about the new Avengers movie and instead, took an awkward political turn.

You would only know about it if you visited the rabbit hole of social media during the part of the day when it was trending – regardless, it was RDJ’s response to a bizarre question leading up to The Walk Out that I found so intriguing.

The entertainment reporter asked if Robert Downey Jr. considered himself to be a liberal, or more liberal now that he was five years ago, and RDJ responded by saying, “I’m not even sure I know what that word means.”

He’s right, you know. I’m not sure words like liberal and conservative and progressive and traditional are anything more than epithets or maligned labels at this point in our political history.

It’s too bad because my experience with the 3000 or so real people in my life leads me to believe that most are some combination of liberal conservatives, or conservative liberals.

Most believe in ensuring individual liberties – a core value of our country – and that makes them liberals.

And most believe in the traditional American values we were brought up with, like the importance of working hard, taking care of family and community, and demonstrating self-discipline – making them conservatives as well.

Most people I know are open to new ideas, believing in progress brought about by science and discovery. We’re grateful to live in an era when we’ve figured out indoor plumbing for our cities, power grids that supply heat and light, and surgical and pharmaceutical treatments and cures for conditions that killed our ancestors. That makes them progressives as well.

So we’re a complex mix of liberal progressive conservatism at a time when our media is seeking simple. We have entertainment reporters seeking a scoop of sorts by trying to affix a simplistic sound bite political label to a celebrity who is now using his fame to give back in wonderful ways – did you see that video of RDJ as IronMan with the child who received a 3D printed IronMan arm? Precious.

The point is that we’re entering the two-year presidential election cycle with reporters intent on using words as labels to divide us into artificial segments.

We’re more complicated than that. The issues – the problems we face as a nation and a globe are complex and nuanced and require solutions that are not black and white. For example, I just don’t believe there is only one right way to ensure young Somali men living in Minneapolis see a future of meaning, and thereby reject the grainy video images of an ISIS imam promising a greater purpose for their lives by joining jihad. 

That means we Americans who care about the future need to reject simplistic labels and start defining ourselves by finding the true meaning behind words that have become trite epithets. As a progressively conservative liberal, I intend to stand up for the right to be complicated in my political views and I support Robert Downey Jr.’s decision to walk out on trite.