My story: Same guy, different label

PAUL EPP’S COLUMN this time reflects on whether he is a liberal, and if so, how? This sent me back into the same well-worn path I have walked, myself.

Kerry Knudsen

I was a liberal when I was young. I was raised as a liberal in a liberal family. My dad was a social worker; mom was a teacher. As a liberal, I believed in things.

For example, I believed in Martin Luther King, Jr., who believed in equal opportunity, and who believed in judging people by their character.

I was actually up-and-around in life when President John F. Kennedy made his now-famous remark, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

I was taught to love people, and I do. And I recall my dad telling me repeatedly that, at the end of my life, money would have little to do with anything. “Your life will be,” he said, “the sum total of your experiences.” Clearly, he intended that those experiences would be created by me, based on my values.

I took Dad’s advice to heart, and I have a lot of stories. And I chose a career where I could not only learn in depth the stories others have, but to document them in a historical record. I became a publisher. To me, everybody has a story. As with all people, all throughout time, some stories are good, and some are not so good. Some are high-energy and short, some dole themselves out over time.

As part of my understanding of people, I think it’s a sin to deprive somebody else of his or her story. If somebody wants to become a doctor or lawyer, I listen and watch, and I see some that succeed and some that fail at being doctors or lawyers, yet go on to succeed at something else. And others seem to go nowhere, and, yet, that’s their story.

With that mindset, I wonder if it’s proper to saddle kids with school debt they can’t repay. One of my stories is about a night in Istanbul, where my drunken Moslem associate told me that the Jews believe it’s a sin to lend money to somebody that cannot repay. I am not familiar with Jewish lending practices beyond what I read in Shakespeare, but it’s a neat thought. If true, we are sinning by lending money to kids that are too young to understand the crushing power of debt.

What if, instead of assuming every kid has the right to crushing debt, we assumed every kid has the right to write his or her own story on the way to his or her education? What if they could work in an abattoir, cut trees for fence posts, wash dishes, be a bill collector, work construction, be a roofer, knee-kick carpets and trowel adhesive for a living on the way through school? I did those things, so I don’t really think it’s too heavy a cross to bear.

Losing your character and your reputation is, in fact, a heavy cross. Even so, I support any kid that wants to rage against his or her lot in life by marching, protesting, demanding and crying. It’s what kids do, and it’s one kind of story. It is also one kind of education. In fact, it’s one kind of education to latch on to nominal “liberal” causes, if only to discover they are not what they seem.

Take, for example, this recent headline: “California has eight of 10 most -polluted American cities.” Google it. Then google “character.” Some kids fail at marching and blaming, yet learn and go on to succeed at something else. And others seem to go nowhere, and that’s their story.

So I went on to believe that work is its own reward, that character matters, that if I don’t like something it’s in me to change my attitude or change my presence. I don’t have to work for nothing unless I want to, and there is always work for people that are willing to do it. Cream rises to the top.

So, I think I am the author of my own story, and I think you are the author of yours. And for that, I often get labeled a conservative. Looking back on Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy, I’m not too sure that’s accurate, but, accurate or not, it’s a story, indeed. And you can’t judge a book by its title.

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