By John Scolaro
Special to the Valencia Voice

Several years ago, my wife and I found our way to Tucson, Arizona to attend a Retrouvaille Conference, which is a Catholic-sponsored program to help couples of all faiths and those with no faith tradition, heal and renew their marriages. Since this was our first visit to Tucson, we decided to take a casual stroll down one of Tucson’s main streets before returning to the conference. During our walk, we passed by a music shop outside of which was a young male vocalist-composer behind a stack of CDs he was offering for sale.

What really grabbed our attention, however, was his pet cat, which was perched, on the sidewalk in front of his CDs. And then, to our surprise, we also noticed that his pet mouse was perched on the back of his cat. Both of these pets sat motionless. Right next to them was a small sign which said: “ Why can’t we all just get along?”

That perceptive sign struck a chord in us that will live with us forever, especially now after the bizarre Tucson shooting at Representative Gabrielle Giffords’ “Congress on Your Corner” public meeting on Saturday, January 8th. Despite the loss of 6 lives on that tragic morning in Tucson as well as the serious injuries sustained by 19 other victims of such a horrific event, here is what I think that simple sign, placed beside those two pets, might teach us:

1. Conflicts or differences of both a political and personal nature will never be resolved at the end of the barrel of a gun! Dialogue and debate, driven by respect between and among those with whom we disagree, is the better and more viable option to embrace. This option requires us to listen attentively to the views held by our opponents and to engage them fairly in an ongoing discourse. Doing this will never result in anyone’s death or serious injury! Our Retrouvaille experience taught us that. It’s also what I have invited my students to embrace at the college where I have taught now for almost 22 years.

2. Don’t wear your feelings on your sleeve. Even Plato, the Greek classical philosopher of antiquity, extolled reason as the highest form of knowledge. According to Plato, emotions occupied the lowest level of his hierarchy of knowledge simply because he knew that our emotions often skew our better judgment. This becomes rather obvious based on the children’s fairy tale, “The Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf.” In the best known version, published in 1890, the motives of the wolf were mis-understood by the pigs. So, they ended up boiling a pot of water into which the wolf plunged, by sliding down the chimney. The pigs were convinced that the wolf was up to no good. However, the revised version of this original children’s fairy tale, published in 1989, reveals that the wolf found his way to the pigs’ houses to innocently ask them for sugar so that he could bake a cake for his dear Granny’s birthday. In other words, the wolf was never as bad as the pigs thought he was.

Apply this to any issue and the degree to which our response to the views expressed by others are, more often than not, driven by our emotions rather than by reason will be obvious. This is what often causes us to act in ways that we may later regret. Isn’t the true balance between one’s emotions and reason the more viable option?
If so, then perhaps, unlike the pigs, we can avoid the jaundiced view of others, often embraced, whenever our emotions get the best of us. We might even be able to answer the question posed by that sign my wife and I saw on that Tucson street several years ago: “Why can’t we all just get along?”

—John Scolaro is a professor of humanities at Valencia College