Next Tuesday is Election Day.
In this interconnected world of near-boundless media and pervasive personal electronic screens, we are being bombarded with efforts to influence our voting decisions.
Regardless of worldview and opinion, most everyone is upset by our current state of politics: the rancor, the demonization of those with a different opinion, the choice of language to fight rather than to resolve, the unwillingness of our elected representatives to take even a few effective steps toward solving big, complex problems requiring a dreaded word: compromise. “I win, you lose” is the mindset of the day exemplified by our Congress, along with its fear-based corollary “If you win, I lose.”
This inflamed, destructive atmosphere won’t change anytime soon. After the recent bomb mailings and mass shooting in Pittsburgh, there are lots of calls to “turn down the rhetoric,” but what each side really means is for the other to make the change first. Absent the magnitude of another 9-11 event to break the spell, Americans will remain more divided than united for the foreseeable future.
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.” — Mahatma Gandhi
As people who benefit greatly from living in the United States with the great fortune to be American citizens, we have a civic duty to take action that will actually make our communities better — local, state, regional, national, and global.
Just because the “other side” refuses to behave according to respectful norms, does that lock us into playing by their rules? Do they get to decide our behavior?
What action will you take to break the cycle?
We could begin by simply seeking to build trust where it is absent.
CHARACTER — What values do we share? There is much we can agree on. There is more that unites us than divides us. Let’s start there.
COMMITMENT — Most everyone laments a common list of big problems to solve: decaying infrastructure, climate change, poverty, education reform, stagnant wages, national debt/deficit, etc. These problems need to be addressed at every level. At whatever level you have influence, seek to develop a common purpose and begin taking action to solve it. James Fallows offers inspiring examples in his book Our Towns.
COMPETENCE — Become a more knowledgeable citizen. Reject the laziness of forming superficial opinions based on sound bites and the opinions of others (especially anonymous and unfounded online postings) without critical review. Dig deeper. Read history and contrary opinions. Don’t make up your mind until you can explain both sides equally well. Maintain a healthy modicum of doubt that you could be wrong in order to remain open to contrary information and new developments.
P.S. Curious about the test that immigrants must pass to become naturalized citizens? Click HERE. In aviation, we say “a pilots license is a license to learn.” The same applies to citizenship. President Trump recently said he can change the application of the 14th Amendment by Executive Order. Can you list the 27 amendments to the Constitution? How about the six amendments that passed the Congress but failed to be ratified by the requisite number of state legislatures?
CONNECTION — Get out of your comfortable online and TV echo chambers. Fox News viewers should also watch CNN and MSNBC and vice versa. Tune in to BBC World News and read article from “The Economist” to get your news from around the world. Seek to understand other viewpoints. Practice applying Rappoport’s Rules. Ask better questions to encourage dialog. Disagree respectfully without personal attack or vilifying the other’s intentions. Be willing to simply say “You’re right” when they are.
COMMUNICATION — Speak and write with the purpose of increasing other people’s understanding. Choose your words carefully. Express yourself with a tone that invites discussion rather than disengagement. Pay attention to non-verbal cues, yours and others.
Bottom line: the days of being complacent and abdicating our civic duties are over. The challenges and problems are too great to sit idly on the sidelines. If you don’t take positive, constructive action, you don’t have the right to complain. Each and every one of us can do something. No civic action is too small.
Start being the change you want to see by being an informed voter on Tuesday.