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The importance of communication

Hoosiers are probably pretty well fed-up with Indiana legislators’ chronic inability to tackle serious budget and tax restructuring problems because of intense political and philosophical differences, not to mention political ambitions, but they are doing something right: They’re talking to each other. Frequently and regularly. When rival groups refuse to talk, they can rarely settle problems.
Take the South Harrison Community School Corp. for example. The teachers and the administration have broken off negotiations over a contract that is long overdue. It’s hard to find a compromise when they glower at each other instead of talk.
On a much larger scale, take Israel and their Palestinian neighbors. Israeli prime minister and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat refuse to talk. They are in a constant state of war, and both peoples suffer.
The prime minister of India and the Pakistani strongman refuse to talk to each other about Kashmir. These two nuclear powers are in a state of near-war, and the world nervously waits.
On the other hand, President Bush has made it a priority to get to know Russian Premiere Vladimir Putin. Putin has been to Bush’s ranch in Texas (no doubt tried on cowboy boots and a Stetson hat), and Bush has been to Moscow. President Clinton made it a point to get to know Russian President Boris Yeltsin, and their friendship was beneficial for both their countries. Several European leaders got to know and trust former Premiere Mikhail Gorbachev, who transformed Russia almost overnight and changed the world.
These two superpower countries, former Cold War enemies, now see eye to eye on a great many things, including nuclear disarmament, thanks to the fact that presidents and Russian premiers have met and talked about common issues. Even the leaders of North and South Korea now talk, and improved relations have resulted between the two countries. Someday there may be one Korea again.
President Richard Nixon did the world a big favor when he shocked everyone by making a trip to China back in the days when these two superpowers were enemies. China and the United States have gotten along much better since then, and several presidents have followed Nixon’s lead.
You have to wonder what would happen if Bush tried to arrange a meeting with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein or the Muslim cleric who leads Iran? Would the world be a safer place? Probably.
When rivals meet by themselves and talk, they often find that the other guy is a human being, not a cardboard cut-out. They discover that the other person has a family, a following, a constituency, objectives, unique problems, cultural traditions to follow. Sometimes they find common ground, and a new relationship evolves, which can filter down to their constituents.
Of course, it doesn’t always happen, but we wish it did. The South Harrison school corporation could probably solve a lot of its budget and salary problems if Dr. Neyland Clark sat down with South Harrison teacher association president Glenn Thienel and worked out an agreement, without lawyers and negotiating specialists. They could do it. It’s been done before. I have no doubt that soon the Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly will come up with a compromise on the budget and taxes. It’s because they sit down and talk. Gov. Frank O’Bannon has made it a practice throughout his long political career to keep his opponents informed, and that has earned him immense respect. This way there will be no surprises.
Christians, Muslims and Jews all over the world should sit down and talk. They have so much in common, but they find themselves manipulated by people who practice hate instead of peace. Sharon and Arafat should sit down and talk. They might kill each other first, but if these old warriors would just meet, by themselves, good things could happen. If more Israelis and Palestinians would talk and get to know each other, the hatred and enmity between them would soften and barriers could come down. The Pakistani leader and the Indian prime minister had a chance to meet at a summit conference, but didn’t take it. Millions of people could lose their lives because of that lost opportunity.
President Dwight Eisenhower, a great soldier, once said that it’s always best to stay in contact with your enemy. You can keep track of him easier, and there’s always the chance for a breakthrough.