Friday, November 7, 2014

Middle Ground

Curtis and Marta often argue about labeling genetically modified organisms. They can’t agree; they don’t agree. Curtis’ secret makes it impossible. ____________________________________
“All I’m saying is that they should be labeled.” She leaned back in her chair as if the argument was over because of her proclamation.
He sighed — loudly — but she didn’t even flinch, “Why do they have to be labeled? You’re the one who cares, not them.” They’d had this argument a dozen times and would likely have it a dozen more. Curtis loved his wife, Marta, but they did not agree about this. He worried that she’d find out why he was so passionate about his position.
“But I’m not the one who changed things,” Marta said, still leaning back trying by her posture to end the debate, “I’d rather they not change anything, but they’ve got to mess around with stuff they don’t understand. All I’m asking is to be informed about it. Compromise. We do it all the time, Curt, why not now?”
She was the only one who called him Curt. Most of the time he liked it. Not in that moment, though. “Marty,” he nicknamed right back at her, “You can’t really treat this like negotiating on the price of a sweater at a garage sale. It’s bigger than simple compromise.”
“Why?” She leaned forward again. The argument was back on. Curtis wasn’t sure if he wanted that or not.
“Because,” he put out his hands in a gesture of calming before going on, “there aren’t degrees here. It’s all or nothing the way the labels are designed. If they’re applied people won’t see some or a little, but good or bad, right or wrong, black or white.”
Marta shrugged, “So?”
“So,” Curtis dropped his hands as if his arms could no longer support them, “That’s not the way the world works. That’s not what the science says.”
“Again with the science!”
“Yeah, because it’s science!” This was usually where the argument stopped. She wouldn’t listen to his explanations and he wouldn’t stop trying to explain. He took a deep breath. Maybe it could be different this time. Maybe. “I’m sorry,” Curtis cut himself off, “I shouldn’t have raised my voice.”
Marta didn’t want to argue either, “Me too,” she said.
Curtis sat down next to her on the couch and took her hand. She held his without any real conviction, but she didn’t pull away either. That was some progress. He thought through the possible tacks he could take. He could try the science route again, but she would counter that science was based on asking questions and point out that there were still a lot of unanswered questions. Doubt was the core of science so she was justified for having doubts and wanting labels. He would respond that science was about testing questions through experimentation and that vilifying the experiments was tantamount to vilifying science. Then she would take it as a personal attack and he would try to show her how good science couldn’t be personal. She would accuse him of thinking she was too dumb to understand science and they wouldn’t talk to each other for a few days. No, that was not the right way to have the conversation. 
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