Our political landscape sometimes seems like one big, bad, broken relationship crashing upon the rocks—and those on both ends of the political spectrum are instantly (and sadly) prepared to ascribe the most noxious intentions to the actions of those who hold an opinion contrary to their own. This is unfortunate—but certainly understandable. The political ground shifted beneath the feet of many last November, and the resulting feelings of fear and insecurity have made people lash out. Unfortunately, however human these kinds of reactions might be, they do little to facilitate the national consensus necessary to fix the many pressing problems facing our nation.
These anxious and emotionally-driven responses from those in the political arena who were stunned by the November election results have become so twisted and out of proportion that it has become impossible to understand what either side actually supports or rejects—consistency is no longer a part of the of the equation. For example, regarding the ongoing conflict in Syria, those on the left have moved from “Trump is in Putin’s pocket” to “Trump is waging war on Putin” since the Presidential campaign last fall. Even worse, when the need to reform our broken healthcare system is discussed, those on the right have moved from “Repeal and Replace” to “Never Mind” just since the Inauguration in January! The revolving door of opinion certainly makes one’s head spin, but it is the extraordinary degree of distrust exhibited by all regarding almost every issue that is startling—and profoundly worrisome.
We must move beyond our paranoid preconceptions of one another’s motives because—although this might make for wonderfully “tweet-able” bits of schoolyard-style maliciousness—it contributes little to the real world of discussion, negotiation, and compromise. Sadly, no matter what our political opponents might say or write these days—and how thoughtfully they try to explain it to a listener or reader—they are often perceived to be engaging in subterfuge designed to crush our nation and its people in a shortsighted attempt to impose a personal agenda on an unwilling and/or vulnerable public. I could keep adding more adjectives and adverbs, but this is pretty much the state of our political discourse these days.
The problem we now face as a result is one born of the inevitable collision between overheated rhetoric and quotidian reality: Despite the vehemence with which we now commonly express our opinions and beliefs, we still need to find a way to occupy a common land mass and live under a common set of laws and norms. Short of outright secession—which some are foolish enough to actually advocate—we must figure out some way to make our many interconnecting relationships work for the benefit of America as a whole. Even if we can’t agree on every issue, perhaps we can agree on a few basic principles that might keep us from flinging the household crockery at one another day after day and help us to regain some much-needed perspective that will cool down our flaming rhetoric.
The world is not fair, but we can still strive to make it as fair as possible—within reason.
No matter what regulations, systems, and laws we put in place, we cannot create a nation where all opportunities are equalized, all disparities are eliminated, and all conflicts are erased. As much as this might grate on some, we must accept this in order to avoid unnecessarily restricting the basic freedoms we are fortunate to enjoy as Americans. The desire of many to change this harsh fact of human existence springs from a well-meaning place, but the resulting actions generally do nothing but suck us all into an intrusive and expensive bureaucratic vortex of blather and bother that simply produces its own set winners and losers when government officials pass out the goodies. Short of a genetically engineered “utopia” where we all come off an assembly line with the depressing sameness of Styrofoam blocks, our lives, those of our children, and the lives of the billions upon billions of people around the globe who are total strangers to us are going to be battles of brains, brawn, and beauty that will produce winners, losers, and every variation in between.
Moreover, although it might not seem so when you read the hourly attacks on one another that reverberate through our media outlets and the blogosphere, we actually do live in a blessedly calm nation—although it is still sitting astride a messy, noisy, and scary planet where the list of factors we cannot control is far longer than the meager list of those we can. Some rules and boundaries are obviously needed to manage any nation; however, it could certainly be argued that the most important lesson to be learned from the past half-century of politics is that micromanaging everyone’s lives often produces nothing more than a new set of problems. The proper role of government in creating a world that is more fair for all is certainly a matter for discussion, but we must always remember that perspectives different from our own should be granted equal space and consideration—and nothing will be accomplished by engaging in continual in-fighting and name-calling.
We need to return to appropriate levels of personal privacy in order to keep politics from intruding into—and overwhelming—our daily lives.
We live in a “Too Much Information” society that has sadly erased the boundary between what is acceptable to share and that which should be kept to ourselves. The problems caused by documenting and sharing every aspect of our lives might not seem obvious to those who are voyeurs and exhibitionists, but there is a clear line between someone who wishes to share their personal story out of a desire to inspire or instruct versus those many individuals who are seeking personal validation—or perhaps even retribution—via social media.
If you count on the crowd for your sense of self-worth, you can count on a signal truth: Somebody will disapprove of you. Unfortunately, social media now allows that disapproval to be broadcast to a worldwide audience who will further amplify—and likely garble—that initial disapproval with the aid of their own doubts, anger, and frustration. The result of this is a spiral of rage, defensiveness—and yet more insecurity—that improves nothing and no one. If our political discussions are reduced to the 21st century technological equivalent of spray painting 140 character slogans on a wall and making derogatory comments about those who disagree with our positions or values, we are going to keep shouting right past one another and never build the bridges between one another that are necessary to manage our nation and provide for our people.
Some believe that hashtag activism and virtue-signaling via social media creates a stronger nation. However, although a society where we all walk around naked with billboards on our heads broadcasting our thoughts would, of course, be utterly transparent, it would also destroy the space that should be reserved for dreams, hopes, and desires that are ours alone—which seems to be exactly what has happened. I believe much of the pervasive anxiety of our modern age can be attributed to the societal pressures that now drive us to overshare our lives to a point of sheer absurdity. The well-documented link between the time we spend pecking away on Facebook pages and diagnoses of depression should tell us all something about the innate human need for boundaries and personal space that we seem to have forgotten as we have coasted into the 21st century digital age, and our politics cannot easily heal under such circumstances.
The personal may, as some feminists have claimed, be political, but we still need to maintain our personal lives and sense of what should be kept private in the process. We are not worthwhile individuals just because every aspect of our lives is shared with everyone, and we damage ourselves and others if we lose all touch with our inner existence. Reasoned perspective that is born of quiet and personal contemplation—not mob action resulting from a Tweetstorm—is exactly what is needed to improve our national dialogue right now.
Keep the courage of your convictions without closing your mind to learning from the lives and experiences of others.
I am sometimes complimented by others regarding my calm and patience, which I believe is a helpful attribute to possess no matter what your life’s endeavors might be. I believe this peace springs from two practices I strive to always keep at their forefront of my daily activities: Live according to a set of principles while also respecting the principles of others. If we are smart, we are humble enough to realize there is a great deal about the world and the lives of others that we neither know nor understand. Rather than fear and reject contrary viewpoints or ideas, we maintain balance and emotional health by listening—and hopefully learning.
We can change or modify our own values as we see fit based on what we learn from the lives and experiences of those outside our circle of friends or family, but more importantly we develop the ability to empathize with those with whom we disagree rather than simply shower them with our smug scorn. That, by itself, might be the first essential step toward healing the angry divisions in our nation. It may be distressing to listen to others explain why they believe we are wrong, but it is certainly a valuable part of our political educations and allows us to broaden our perspectives regarding the people and world around us.
I am sorry, America. National divorce or separation are not options even remotely available—and isolating yourself from your neighbors or “un-friending” those with whom you disagree will do nothing but produce yet more grief for us all. Therefore, let’s all resolve to work together while respecting the reasons of others and rediscovering our perhaps frayed sense of personal privacy. You may consider it “couples therapy” if you wish—but please consider it, nonetheless.