The man was frustrated.
We were in the question-and-answer portion of a talk I’d been asked to give to a Central Indiana civic organization. My remarks focused on the challenges Indiana and the United States will face getting ready for a coming worldwide labor shortage and how that was influencing so many of the debates in this state about education, labor law and even same-sex marriage.
The man at the back of the room said he was tired of hearing discussions about money that didn’t involve talk of culture and basic values.
I tried to respond by saying that government set priorities and policies by allocating resources. It didn’t work.
The man shook his head, pursed his lips and grimaced.
I asked if I’d addressed his question.
He said wanted to talk about family values. The evidence was overwhelming, he said, that certain cultural values, such as two-parent families, produce better results. He wanted to know why no one was willing to discuss that.
He wanted to know why government and society ignored his concerns when he always had played and worked by the rules.
Even as we talked, measures designed to address his concerns were under consideration at the Indiana General Assembly.
A bill authored by Indiana Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, would allow businesses to refuse service to customers if they believe the customers’ lifestyles violate the owners’ religious principles. It’s designed to give social conservatives who own or manage businesses a way to refuse to work with gay people.
Another bill authored by Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, would allow faith-based organizations that receive government funds to make hiring and firing decisions based on religious grounds.
The chances that the Indiana General Assembly will approve these two bills and Gov. Mike Pence will sign them into law are pretty good.
The chances that they will survive the inevitable legal challenges are far smaller.
And that likely will leave the man who was asking me questions even more frustrated.
That’s not to say that he was not plenty frustrated already. As I talked about the ways people in our society often tended to talk past each other – what he sees as a problem of values, people on the left often describe as a problem of poverty and they’re often talking about the same thing without realizing or acknowledging it – the man shifted in his seat.
His brow furrowed and he grimaced.
His body language almost screamed:
YOU’RE NOT HEARING ME!
But I’m trying.
So many of the debates we have had in this state in the past few years – over education and over same-sex marriage – divide us with the subtlety of a meat cleaver because they are arguments over things that hit close to home: how we should think and how we should live.
I won’t pretend that I agree with the “values” measures before lawmakers now, because I don’t think they’re a good idea or even constitutional.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t or don’t understand the motivation behind them. It’s the same frustration the man in the audience expressed.
He made it clear he felt the beliefs by which he lived – by which he had been commanded to live by his faith – weren’t just being ignored. They were being disparaged.
And he was determined to have them taken seriously.
This, of course, is one of the great tragedies of our time. We Hoosiers, we Americans, are so convinced that we aren’t being heard that we long ago stopped listening to each other.
Not surprisingly, we just grow angrier and more frustrated.
After the question-and-answer period ended, people came up to shake hands and offer farewells. As I got ready to leave, I looked over at the man who asked me the questions.
He had his head down as he left the room.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.