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  • Katherine Dudley Hoehn

Puzzling Politics

On the cold rainy day of my sister’s recent visit, we stayed inside, working a jigsaw puzzle while we discussed issues of the day and watched one of the Democratic Party presidential debates.

As we worked the “Baby Boomers” puzzle, a funny compilation of newspaper headlines, slogans, and logos, we talked about religion and politics and how unpresidential some of the candidates seem. Some of them are senior Baby Boomers but not all were yet born in the 1960’s or even the 1970’s. Most of all, we noticed that debate skills varied, and decided that whether or not you are good at debating probably is not a measure of your presidential abilities.

The candidates' gathering (debate) would have been much more interesting if they had been working a jigsaw puzzle together, perhaps one emblazoned with photos from their middle school days when they would have all been awkward. It would be televised but without annoying moderators asking loaded questions.

Sitting together at a round table, where everyone is equal, their common goal would be to finish a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle in 2 hours. While they were working toward their goal, they would have interesting conversation that we could all hear while watching their progress.

Imagine the discussion. “I had no idea your eyes were blue.” “Where was this photo taken?” “Did your family vacation in Florida, too?” “What were your biggest fears in middle school?” “Did you have a date for the first middle school dance?” It would be so civil and we would see them acting like normal people, getting along, helping one another find all those elusive puzzle side pieces, and laughing when the missing piece showed up on the floor under someone’s chair.

They might even discuss real issues, but with civility because they had to work together and finish the puzzle in the allotted amount of time. There would be no room for hand waving, raised voices, posturing, or even making snarky faces at one another. They would be focused on the task at hand, and have interesting and pleasant discussion.

The cameras would focus in on the puzzle pieces and their hands as they placed oddly shaped pieces in correct places, and perhaps others incorrectly, having to turn them 90 or 180 degrees to make them fit. It would be a real lesson in politics, where things aren’t always as they seem, and some things that appear to fit actually have to be tilted, turned, or tossed back in the heap.

The Republican and Democratic candidates for president could work a puzzle together with their respective running mates. They might be given a little more time, or a smaller puzzle. Their goal would be the same: finish on time, with all the pieces fitted correctly. The puzzle photo would be the U.S. Constitution. They might have a few things to discuss about its interpretation and how often it is ignored. This could get a little bit heated, but eyes would have to stay on the puzzle, and hands would be busy sorting, fitting, and moving pieces around. It would be fun to watch.

What might we learn from this? I think that would see a more civil side of each candidate, learn things about them that don’t come out in the debates, and see who can play fairly, put the pieces in the right places, and know when to admit that a piece just doesn’t fit. Does the candidate set up the boarder (side pieces) first, sort by color or size, or use the box top photo to try to figure out where the pieces go. Do they hog the pieces or share? Do they get excited when they fit a particularly difficult piece and finish a section? How do they express frustration when they just can’t find the pieces they need or have to discard one that they can’t place?

Like the candidates, my sister and I don’t always see eye to eye, although we are both registered with the same political party. We agree that politics have taken an unprecedented front seat and civility and kindness have been lost in the process. Neither of us are happy with the candidates, the ugliness in the political environment, the blame games on both sides, or the mean spirits out there in the public. We agree that giving thanks for what we have and giving back have been often forgotten in the press of political business.

For the next debate, try working a puzzle with your friend or significant other. Think about how much more the candidates would accomplish by sitting at a round table with a puzzle, fitting those tough pieces together, sorting colors, and setting up the boundaries. Wouldn’t we all be a little better off if we looked at politics and life as a puzzle requiring cooperation and the ability to admit when something just doesn’t fit.

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Feb 23, 2020

Really enjoy your thoughtful blogs, Katherine. The baby boomer puzzle sums it all up, doesn't it. What a good idea, putting the puzzles together for the candidates. Key word, together!

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