Being civil is a lost art – especially in politics. We need to get way better at it | Frank Pizzoli

Ever been asked by a plumber fixing your toilet what your politics are? I have. It’s as awkward as you might think

September 30, 2022 6:30 am

NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 24: Former U.S. President Bill Clinton stands with former U.S. President George H.W. Bush during the opening session of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) September 24, 2008 in New York City. President Clinton is hosting the fourth annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), a gathering of politicians celebrities, philanthropists and business leaders grouped together to discuss pressing global issues. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Monday mornings are hard enough. Especially when a plumber is scheduled to arrive not long after the sun comes up. What happened next was troubling.

After diagnosing the needed repair, the plumber asked: “You’re not one of those [Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John] Fetterman people, are you? I’m a staunch conservative. Don’t want anything to do with liberal snowflakes.”

There are no political signs anywhere on my property. No giveaways that I can think of. No poster on the way to my bathroom waiting to jump out and challenge your political point of view. I have no tattoos. I’m really short. I wear suits now only if they’re absolutely necessary.

I’ve had better Monday mornings. We all have.

On the up side, after quietly asking the plumber to leave without making repairs, I was reminded of something comedian Bill Maher said. Yes, I’m a fan, regularly watch his TV show, and have seen his road show several times. I’ve also interviewed him twice. I hope to do so again. For some time now, he’s opined that we’ve allowed our ongoing political divisiveness to form the focal point of our social interactions, contributing to the widening divide among us.

Ahead of Hershey show: Bill Maher talks Pa.’s U.S. Senate race, insurrection, and teaching civics

Maher asks that we just shut up already on the all-politics-all-the-time thing going around. Instead, just get to know each other, at least at first.

He said in our second interview he’s “not certain that many voters know about our institutions in depth or how they are intended to work. Because they’re not grounded in their understanding, they conclude they don’t like them.”

Perhaps this circumstance helps us to better grasp why there is such rage-against-democracy out there across the nation.

When asked if schools need to resume teaching civics, history, and humanities, rather than banning books which seems to be the current rage, Maher said: “Absolutely! I’ve been saying that forever. Teach civics, as in three equal branches of government meant to balance each other. No one person, branch of government, regulatory agency or court at any level rules the roost. Our teaching of history is currently full of thorns causing hemorrhages in our understanding of our past. We should teach our history honestly, with facts, but not with an angle.”

Maybe this would be an informative way to explain that there are three branches of government but one’s religion isn’t one of them. 

When asked for an example of teaching history without ‘an angle’, Maher offered: “The current notion of ‘white fragility’ says If you’re white, you’re racist. If you think you’re not, you’re mistaken. You just don’t know you are. That’s no way to build bridges. What’s hopeful about that message? Who wants to go to that meeting? Never should we deny any aspect of our racial history. But let’s begin speaking to one another in a way we can learn and grow and change together.” 

I agree with Maher because my experience is that changing together works (if I and the other party allow it to work). Also, his emphasis is on never denying any aspect of our history.

Perhaps it’s the moniker that teaching racial history trades under right now – Critical Race Theory – that sticks in the craw of so many. Would it be more effective, and involve less finger pointing in both directions, if we simply strove to present our racial history in a factual way, based on our known historical record, and changing when new information is unearthed?

Monday Morning Plumber isn’t the first time I’ve been asked about my political POV in awkward circumstances.

While providing services to a client on my part-time (non-journalistic) job, I was asked similar questions. I took a breath, smiled, saying in a soft voice: While I am here in your residence providing a service you’ve asked for, practically speaking, I am in the workplace.

I’m here to focus on providing you with the best service I can based on your unique needs. I won’t be discussing my or your politics which have nothing to do with why I’m here. (Why couldn’t that have been how the plumber visiting my house handled himself?)

Over time, my part-time client and I made tremendous headway in locating our mutual humanity. We didn’t force ourselves into identifying what we had in common. We just let it happen, parting on warm terms. I’m all for that kind of interaction.

Back to the plumber who announced he is an “staunch conservative.”

Besides Maher, his disclosures made me think of Adam Smith, whose iconic The Wealth of Nations shapes our economic modus operandi for Capitalism.

In summary, Adam Smith wrote that we create wealth by our labor, that self-interest motivates us to use our resources wisely. I don’t think the plumber used his resources wisely. I’m certain there have been circumstances, and there will be more, where I also haven’t always wisely used my resources.

But I’ve been lucky to have had all kinds of marketplace experiences over my years. I’ve successfully created and operated one for-profit business (2003-2017) and one non-profit entity (1997-2017) recognized by former President George H. W. Bush’s Points of Light Foundation.

As the elder Bush said: “We can find meaning and reward by serving some higher purpose than ourselves, a shining purpose, the illumination of a thousand points of light… We all have something to give.”

And that’s better than tossing our interactions into the toilet. Next time I encounter a person curious about my political persuasions,

I’m hoping it goes like this: We ask each other why we choose the values we have and what we hope to accomplish. And then see where we can work together.

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Frank Pizzoli
Frank Pizzoli

Frank Pizzoli, the former editor and publisher of the Central Voice, writes about the issues that matter to Pennsylvania's LGBTQ residents.