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Political climate divides by color. Choose purple


July 17, 2020

Minnesotans have had an affinity for the color purple ever since the NFL Minnesota Vikings chose purple and white as their franchise colors and Prince cried “Purple Rain.” Throughout the centuries purple has been regarded as the symbol of royalty as well as wealth, power, wisdom and more. Jenny Joseph sings the praises of wearing purple in her poem “Warning,” an ode to defying social norms by wearing purple clothing with a red hat, no less. And now there is a children’s picture book by Kristen Bell and Benjamin Hart called “The World Needs More Purple People.”

Maybe there is more to the purple phenomenon than meets the eye.

As the 2020 election year unfolds, we will be bombarded with political pundits analyzing data about voter preferences, determining which states are red or blue and noting the divide between liberal and conservative regions or states. Every so often there is mention of a “purple” state, meaning there is a mixing of red and blue voters from a majority of one side or the other, a shift of allegiance to a party or candidates.

In a segment aired on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” on Nov. 13, 2014, Ron Elving explained the development of the partisan divide that paints red states as the domain of the Republicans, blue states as the home of Democrats and paints all of us into a corner. Elving said the practice of using colors denoting states won by the major candidates evolved with color TV broadcasts beginning in 1976 on NBC, but it was not until 2000 that all major networks agreed to the color scheme used today.

Divided politics returns us to the concepts presented in “The World Needs More Purple People.” Bell and Hart focus on the ways children can change in order to bring our diverse society together. In these times of social unrest and division, the suggestions in this book can serve as a guide for all of us to examine our motives and, if necessary, change our behaviors. Bell and Hart carefully craft basic premises that will result in a world with more purple people. The ideas are quite basic, but so important.

First of all, purple people ask questions. Neuroscientists have discovered that when a question is posed to a person, the brain shifts to a more creative way of thinking and makes new neuronal connections, leading to better insight. Bell and Hart say that not only do purple people ask questions, they listen to others in order to share ideas or understand others’ concerns.

Another concept Bell and Hart note is that purple people use their voices to express opinions and offer ideas. How encouraging it was to read the piece by Lexis Gerard, the Pine Knot’s new summer intern. She discussed her role as a legislative youth council representative and advocate, not only using her voice but teaching and encouraging other young people to express their opinions. Through her work on this council, many more young people are learning the importance of involvement in issues that matter to them. Ms. Gerard appears to be well on her way to being a purple person. Needless to say, adults have opinions and ideas to share as well, and employing their voices in a respectful manner is most valuable to keep our democracy vibrant.

Another characteristic of purple people is that they work hard to fix problems or help others. Our society is not a stagnant pond that protects the status quo; rather, it is constantly evolving and adapting to changes and problems requiring creative solutions leading to growth and renewal. We need many more purple people to address issues in our communities as well as at the state and national levels because there is so much work to be done.

Finally, Hart and Bell recommend that to be purple people, we ought to laugh more. There seems to be less joy and humor in our culture with the pandemic and social unrest. We need the kind of laughable moments that are not at the expense of others, unlike many on social media or primetime TV, but rather the classic humor in the tradition of Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett. “Laughing helps us remember the things we share and forget what we thought made us different,” the authors point out. It is difficult to feel angry with someone who tickles your funny bone.

We are at a crossroads where we decide what kind of people we want to be, regardless of the politics, labels and colors that limit our ability to develop a society where issues are discussed without vitriol, ideas are shared without ridicule, and people look beyond partisanship to seek solutions to the many problems facing us today. We aspire to become more purple by asking questions (and listening to answers), using our voices in a respectful manner, working hard to find solutions and understanding other viewpoints and, best of all, laughing more. Minnesotans can all be purple people even if we aren’t Vikings or Prince fans.

Writer Francy Chammings is a retired English teacher and clinical psychologist who lives in Carlton County.


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