No, this column isn’t about who I am going to vote for, or why. Those close to me know who my ballot goes to, but I think there are a few other million people who have filled the media sphere with their opinions. If it needs to be said (or doesn’t need to be said), it already has been.
Instead, it’s more of a comment on reality versus rhetoric.
I’ve watched this election from afar. I already knew who I would vote for and why some time ago. So all the ads, the comedian’s barbs, the political cartoons had a different effect on me. They have become a lesson in why we don’t get along.
I happen to be pretty open to the idea that my candidate has flaws and has not done well in some aspects of his political work. I can run down a list. I can easily build a list of the other guy’s flaws and failures as well.
The rhetoric about who voted for this or did that? It’s like rain over a duck for me. In politics, as well as life, often politicians vote for or against bills for all kinds of reasons – because a bill has (or doesn’t have) a political poison pill, to cut a deal for something more important down the line. We’ve created a political system so complex that it’s like a chess game, and what seems like an obvious betrayal of values in the simple speak of a 30 second advertisement is often part of a complex set of chess moves to accomplish larger goals.
The hoopla about bad decisions? A few decisions that didn’t turn out as planned don’t bother me. Government, whether a small village in Vermont, or the Federal Government in DC, is made up of layers upon layers of people, all making decisions based on their perception and information, which is often incomplete, skewed and (gasp) human. Add to that the fact that we are dealing with people and governments that often don’t see things the way we expect them to and the real miracle is that we don’t have more high profile situations go awry.
Inflamitory statements? Please. All of us slat what we say to who we are saying it to. Things get taken out of context. I look for the larger patterns of what people say and what they do. I refuse to let three or four sentences, ballhooed by mad dog campaigns define either candidate. That’s silly.
You get the idea.
The problem, I think, is that we don’t let candidates be human. Humans have weaknesses and flaws. They also have strengths and character. To get to those take time, and to see them means we have to look beyond the surface of a 30 second TV rant or a clever graphic on the web, both of which are concocted by a candidate’s enemy, determined to knock the other guy off their pedestal and avoid a deeper exploration of the patterns of each guy’s values, strengths and weaknesses.
The sad thing for me, is that when I listen to my friends and colleagues smart, generally thoughtful people, I hear back not their own thoughtful analysis of what they think and see, but the same one line definitions of each candidate that fills our airwaves, web and other media day after unrelenting day.
I think this is part of a larger pattern in our lives, the fact that we are so willing to raise people up, or tear people down based on one or two things we see, without taking the time and effort it takes to really know a person or a situation.
I see it all the time in broken relationships, broken families, in churches, in business relationships. We make deep, complex people into cardboard cutouts, never looking past the pretty (or ugly) surface. I’ve done it. Most of us have.
As I age though, I have come to understand just how complex people and situations are. I understand more and more that even people I disagree with or who make what on the surface seem to be incomprehensible decisions often are making those decisions with information and influences I have no concept of.
And too, I am more aware of what a mix of strength and weakness, of great values and great flaws there are in my own life, and in the life of others.
Being aware and honest to myself about my own mixed bag makes me more tolerant of others’. But many of us are still caught in that whole “we gotta be perfect” thing. We present our perfection, not our struggle. We assist the world in their effort to make us a cardboard cutout instead of letting them know we are, well….. human.
The higher people rise, whether it’s in business, politics, churches, the more we tend to tray and make them cutouts. We have less and less tolerance for their humanity. We want their perfection and we ignore (if we like them) or decry (if we don’t) their flaws.
Which is a shame, because even as we do this to others, they are likely doing the same to us. It makes a real discussion, with mutual respect, difficult. It alienates. It prevents working together effectively. It makes everything an “us versus them” situation, even things that don’t need to be.
You can’t say “Well, it’s election and afterwards we’ll all get along.” People aren’t wired that way. People who are hurt, insulted, vilified remember. Their hearts hurt. Ask your teenager, who was laughed at in school today. Or ask a couple who have come through an ugly divorce. When heads cool off, the pain remains. And trust is damaged. And it becomes harder and harder, and finally, impossible to come together, even on things where it might make sense to come together.
And we are dealing with people when we deal with politics. We forget that.
But we shouldn’t.
What happens when we look for the deeper, more complex realities behind the sound bytes? We make better decisions more in line with our own character and values and we are less likely to have “buyer’s remorse” a year after the election. And we view the candidates with more compassion and less anger. We laugh more at the barbs on both sides, just as we often laugh at our own foibles and mistakes.
And we, all of us, emerge less damaged, more likely to listen, to compromise, and to find real solutions to our real problems. Politicians lie to us because we want to hear the lies. We want what we want to be simple, without pain, without struggle. A magic wand.
It all begins with us admitting our own humanity and our own stew of good and evil, strength and weakness, and from there, we gain the ability to extend our compassion and understanding to others around us, and yes, even to politicians.
Am I hopeful we will do it? Not very. But I do think it’s possible. Silly me, I think Americans are, on the balance, and at their core, good people who want to give people a chance. But we’ve all been seduced by the media to trade a life of rich characters and deep understanding and trade it for a land of paper dolls.
We deserve better.