On November 8th, someone is going to win the election.
We can vote — that’s one thing — and we should, intelligently. But there’s more. Our responsibility reaches far beyond the act of casting a ballot. Far beyond the territory of Facebook posts. Far beyond outrage and opinion.
Our responsibility is to each other and to ourselves. It’s to the world we are creating.
The media tells us Hillary has blood on her hands. It tells us You-Know-Who sexually assaults women. If that wasn’t enough, we jump to their defense as though it’s our American duty — we wax poetic to polish our candidate of choice — coating them in a veneer of half-truths and excuses. If you inhale deeply enough through your nose, you smell the fumes of bullshit.
I understand why we do it, though. We’re afraid the candidate we hate more will take office. So we’re willing to cover for the other — to shrug off a man talking about how he grabs women by the pussy as nothing more than “locker room talk” — to wave off unaccounted for emails as “lazy and irresponsible” — to ignore our own moral compass.
Here’s the truth: We don’t have to do it. We are not You-Know-Who v Hillary. It’s not our responsibility to make them look good. They’re adults — they are responsible for their actions. And we hold the weight of our own.
It’s our responsibility to be mindful of who we are becoming in this political process.
We’re witnessing a two-sided war crumble open like old bread — bombs of cold, stale words thrown thoughtlessly at “the other side” even though “the other side” is just the far side of the same room we’re standing in ourselves. We’re watching a circus of unprecedented behaviors unfold, so I get it. It’s outrageous. But who we become — you and me, and the entire nation, independently and collectively — has more to do with the state of our country than the candidate who wins in November.
The other day, a friend sent me this:
My Dear Wormwood, Be sure that the patient remains completely fixated on politics. Arguments, political gossip, and obsessing on the faults of people they have never met serves as an excellent distraction from advancing in personal virtue, character, and the things the patient can control. Make sure to keep the patient in a constant state of angst, frustration, and general disdain towards the rest of the human race in order to avoid any kind of charity or inner peace from further developing. Ensure the patient continues to believe that the problem is “out there” in the “broken system” rather than recognizing there is a problem with himself. Keep up the good work, Uncle Screwtape. — “Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis ~1942
Of course, the system is broken. But what is the system comprised of? People. You and me and them. So how can we become responsible for the things that are our responsibilities?
It starts with an honest look at ourselves — it begins with awareness of our own bias, our own limited understanding. Then, it follows with a swelling truth: that we are powerful.
We all come from somewhere. We have upbringings, small towns and cities, good childhoods and bad ones. We have the religion from which we came, and the wrestlings we swallow down hard all our lives because of it. We have our education, and we have the things we do not know. We have our enlightenment and yet we never quite find a way out of the shadows.
We live in a library of infinite perspectives and ways to see the world — and yet, we are limited.
Beyond the smallness of our own odd-shaped lives, there’s the fact that we’re living just one lifetime in one nation on one planet in one galaxy — in a sea of what we now know are at least two trillion galaxies in the observable universe.
I’m not trying to float us out too far, but it gives perspective. We don’t know everything.
And somehow, our words have the power to destroy and create. Our actions hold weight.
A few months ago, I was visiting my family in California. My dad just survived a heart attack and I wanted to be with him in the time that I, suddenly, almost didn’t have anymore. I brought my husband, sister, and niece along, and it was a beautiful, tearful time together.
We were at a Thai restaurant when my almost-two-year-old niece got squirmy in her highchair. I took her out and set her on the ground to run it off. She giggled and squealed and sprinted back and forth between our table and the door. People watched, smiling at how delighted she was to run. No one seemed disturbed — except my dad, who roared at her to quiet down.
When he did, I watched her entire body — her little bones and her hard-working muscles — fall to the floor. It was like she melted. Her face dimmed and her eyes grew wide with fear. She didn’t cry, but she broke apart. Papa wasn’t happy with her, and though she didn’t know why — his loud demands were enough to dissolve her joy.
When I snapped at my dad for yelling, and he snapped at me for snapping at him, the evening was ruined. We grabbed our food to go, piled into separate cars, and went home. After a walk around the block and a long venting to my husband, I sat on the back porch with my dad and a beer, and we reconciled what happens when our words are harsh and our actions irresponsible — what happens when the force of our own pain comes spewing out onto others.
What happens when we forget how powerful we are.
What happens is: things fall apart. Little bodies of bones and flesh fall apart. Our children fall apart. We rape the earth of her vitality, and we wonder why she falls apart. We wage wars with other countries, and unity falls apart. We burn buildings and shoot people we don’t know, and justice falls apart.
Then, we elect candidates who appear disgraceful, but they are simply mirrors of the climate of our culture. A culture we create together.
How then shall we live? I suppose that’s the question — isn’t it. How do we create a world we are proud to live in? How do we become creatures who are moving ever onward and upward?
I think it’s this:
Humility to recognize how little we know — an honest examination of our own ignorance. A willingness to expand our propensity to understand ourselves and others, no matter how uncomfortable or offensive it may be. An embrace of our ability to shape reality — a sober regard for the power we have to create or destroy with the wielding of our words and actions. And finally: a serious reverence for how we impact all of life.