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Don McNay: What Washington can learn from conversation at a Kentucky gun range

“I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
This brokenness inside me might start healing
Out here it’s like I’m someone else
I thought that maybe I could find myself”

  – Miranda Lambert

The vast majority of my financial and structured settlement clients live in rural areas. Early in my career, I noticed a distinct husband and wife pattern. The man would do all the talking. Then, the woman would make the ultimate financial decisions. That little bit of knowledge has taken me a long way.

When I compete for large accounts, I am usually matched against other “big city folks.” They spend all their time talking to the husband. I find out what the wife is thinking about. Since I respect and listen to the person who actually calls the shots, I normally get the business.

Most of my friends and family are strong-willed, independent thinkers. Strong-willed people just seem to find each other, even if we can’t agree on what we should have for dinner. The Garth Brooks line, “sometimes we fight just so we can make up,” seems to be a prerequisite for my inner circle.

That my oldest daughter, Gena Bigler, is a very strong-willed, independent-thinking, pro-gun feminist does not surprise me in the least.  She grew up in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky surrounded by strong role models and doesn’t need anyone to give her talking points on what to say or how to think. 

Woe to those who put Gena in a convenient stereotype or demographic. It doesn’t work.

Thus, it was a fascinating interaction when my friend Joe Nocera, opinion columnist for the New York Times, came to my home state of Kentucky. We got together for breakfast, and he noted that he wanted to try shooting a gun.

He had never shot one in his life. Neither had I. Fortunately, Gena, who started shooting at age 3, was available as Joe’s guide to the world of guns and target shooting.

You can read about their day at the gun range in Joe’s column, How to Shoot a Gun (New York Times, Jan. 12, 2013). Unlike the normal slogan shouting and name calling, Joe captures an intelligent and well-balanced conversation that gives some innovative insights into issues surrounding gun control.

Why can’t anyone in Washington do what Gena and Joe did? Have an intelligent and well-mannered conversation. 

Washington has not caught on to what is happening in the rest of the country. There seems to be an unending quest to put labels on groups of people. Politicians talk about “the woman’s vote” or “Christian conservatives” as if every demographic group had one leader who told them how to think and act.

It doesn’t work like that. People can’t be conveniently labeled. More and more, social media and unlimited information are allowing people to think for themselves.

I’m a populist-leaning Democrat, but have a big following amongst Tea Party members. I was opposed to the Wall Street bailouts from day one and remain opposed to this day. It wasn’t about ideology or what elected officials wanted. It was being outraged and crying out to do what is right. No matter whom my allies were on that particular issue.

We need leaders who do that.

Talking points continue to rule all in Washington. Check out the political talk shows. When you see someone sent from one political party or another, their job is to stick to a script. I usually hit the mute button when they come on. 

A couple of years ago, Chris Matthews had a guest on Hardball who compared a Democrat to former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. It became clear that the guy didn’t know who Neville Chamberlain was. No matter how many times Matthews asked him, the guy kept repeating his memorized slogan over and over again.

Somewhere in Washington, we need people to reasonably hash out their differences.

I quote Miranda Lambert’s song, The House That Built Me. Joe was born in Rhode Island and lives in New York City. Gena was born in Kentucky and, outside of a year as a Vista volunteer in a Vermont spouse abuse center, has lived there her entire life.

The houses that made them were as different as you can find. But they were able to talk things through in Lexington, Ky.

As I learned in my financial career, the person who makes the most noise is usually not the decision-maker.

If Washington stops yelling slogans and assuming that people think as a bloc, they may find that the American people are decision-makers. Who may have ideas and solutions that don’t boil down into slogans.

But may make great conversation at the gun range.

Don McNay, CLU, ChFC, MSFS, CSSC is the bestselling author of the book Wealth Without Wall Street: A Main Street Guide to Making Money. McNay, who lives in Richmond, is an award-winning financial columnist. You can learn more about him at donmcnay.com. His new book, Life Lessons from the Lottery: Protecting Your Money in a Scary World, was just released on Amazon.

To read more of Don McNay’s columns, click here.

Note: Don McNay’s daughter, Gena Bigler, is also a columnist for KyForward. To read more of her columns, click here.

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