I voted yesterday. It felt more weighty than normal. In 2000 my roommate and I laughed amongst refreshing yahoo.com as Florida flipped back and forth. Today, laughing is replaced with carefully considered thought pieces on potential post-election revolutions. The doomsday scenarios are exasperated by a media structure that leaves no stone unturned in the quest to monetize deception and anger.
I love several people whose politics are the worst part of them. When talk is elsewhere, they are joyous, generous, and centered. When they speak politics, their blood pressure raises and injustices tumble out recklessly, sprawling onto each other. One thing is always true. Their side has the solutions and “the others” are wrong.
This not a post about those moments of anger and which group of well-meaning folks are right. This post is to encourage you to examine the premise of political decision making and present another path for your consideration.
Politics is a House of Discord
The term politics evokes gladhanding and backroom deals. It requires the securing of alliances from a litany of stakeholders with thinly connected ideals. The American two-party system continually morphs with minor land grabs and flip-flops in an effort to create party solidarity. What results? A zombified structure of disparate ideals presented as a coherent safe haven.
Something haunting has happened in recent times. There used to be general agreement that both major parties inhabited houses of discord. Today, the agreement has melted. One house is called a den of iniquity while the other represents as the only safe and moral path forward. This artificial construct and fixation on morally superior ideology is hyper-sensationalism at its worst.
That’s not to say that party ideology and individual concerns don’t matter. Ideology matters. Social justice matters. The economy matters. Your concerns matter. That’s how the build-up of democracy works. And the struggle to make life easier, just, and better for all is a banner worth flying.
Yet, the idea of a safe house is a mirage and glosses over a fundamental truth that every value system understands about the human condition. Each of us is flawed people in a flawed world.
What then of politics and what then of us? Rather than presenting the ideology as the only vehicle of evaluation, we must demand the best of our political leaders, regardless of political affiliation. Demanding the best begins with respect for moderation, ethics, and hard work.
Moderation Equals Strength
A frequent political tactic is to drag out something a politician said a few or a dozen years ago and marvel at his position has now changed. Yup, people change. That’s life and if you aren’t changing your mind frequently, then you aren’t growing. Seeking understanding and understanding is a hallmark of every strong leader.
Moderation, or the avoidance of extremes, has lost favor as weak. The undisputed GOAT of U.S. presidents, Abraham Lincoln blew this notion up by intentionally creating a team of rivals to run his cabinet. Ideologues have no place in execution. Take business or marriage, two of our most venerable institutions. Great spouses sacrifice their desires for Cheerio clean-ups, late-night feedings, and their partner’s ambitions. Business leaders constantly balance bringing on new sales with the reality of execution, hiring a new employee versus running lean, and dealing with dueling priorities every single hour of every single day. Great leaders find a way to advance humankind, not individuals or a specific subset of individuals.
A Good Tree
Per Jesus, a bad tree cannot produce good fruit. Do deadbeat dads outperform diligent ones? Are emotionally abusive mothers preferable to encouraging ones? The tree dictates the fruit.
Many business owners find this out the hard way. The superstar jerk salesman runs his mouth and the younger salespeople are poisoned. The talented engineer refuses to grow his team and ensures revenues cap out at $X million every year. A leader understands the tree’s condition and is consumed with growing that tree.
It’s a fool’s errand to believe we can peer into a public figure and understand his or her’s soul. But we know the tree by its fruits.
Action Over Ideology
Execution, particularly in grid-locked politics, is difficult to determine by motions passed and decrees put forth. A better measure of how hard tax dollars are working is the amount of pontification versus work performed. In business, people generally believe solving a problem is 90% vision and 10% execution. In reality, as any startup business owner will attest, these numbers are inverse. Getting great things done is 10% vision and 90% execution.
Does your chosen politician frequently complain about forces outside of his/her control? Doing so reeks of inefficiency and would be punished in smaller ecosystems where faults cannot be hidden behind pontification or blamed on predecessors. I can quickly tell the strength of an employee by the amount of their grumble. Grumble sucks up precious energy that’s best deployed elsewhere.
The Latin word for “passion” is pati-, meaning suffering, or enduring. Thus, passion is, at its core, a form of pain that demands it be quenched. Political passion is real. And by nature and more specifically human nature, political passion will never be quenched.
Demanding prudence and excellence from politicians is a rounding error to a bigger calling. That bigger calling is demanding excellence from ourselves.
An Inward and Expansive Vision
What is more cruel than anger? What is more affectionate to others than man? Yet what is more savage against them than anger? Mankind is born for mutual assistance, anger for mutual ruin.Seneca
That meme about the superior ossified house or the lastest old white dude scandal feels better for a few seconds. Yet, it’s just rubbing a little ‘Tussin on a gunshot wound. The true calling on one’s life has nothing to do with external factors. It is using one’s gifts to one’s fullest capacity.
And here’s the paradoxical truth about using those gifts. An expansive version of identity focuses on slavish devotion to minutiae. Writing better code. Telling better jokes. Laughing a bit more. Crushing an Excel spreadsheet. Dropping a perfect weld bead. Befriending the guy from the other party. Being prudent in your speech and generous with your spare change.
I tried to learn the guitar several times and quit. I never wanted it enough for my fingers to bleed. My guitarist friends have chafed and bleeding fingers. What are you willing to bleed for?
My friend Ben used to spend every Saturday morning hanging with homeless folks. When people grumbled about hand-outs to theoretical bums or the failings of addiction, Ben responded not with abstract opinions, but from true understanding. He walked with the homeless. He knew their names and felt their pain. Our world needs more Bens – people who step into the minutiae and the suffering and suffer well.
There’s a responsibility to make the world better against the forces of greed, destruction, and selfishness. One of Jesus’ followers, Paul said that the wars we wage are not against people, but against spiritual forces of evil. Jesus himself showed up an occupied land, ignores that major detail, and focuses his messaging on the downtrodden and forgotten. That baffled Israelites who wanted an earthly king to solve broader problems. There was no earthly king coming to save Israel. There is no earthly president coming to save America.
Be it Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, atheist, or any other system of faith, the takeway is to worry less to do with manufacturing a utopia and much more to do with a simple job done well. The right story starts with waking up every day with a heart of gratitude and fire for your purpose. It’s repairing a single shingle on the house, changing a diaper, and holding your tongue. Passion calls to be quenched. But never through the mechanism of a political party.
So dive deeply into the small, beautiful work that enriches and colors life. Take the long walk. Study an obscure hobby. Befriend someone who supports “the others”. Talk about the merits of an opposing viewpoint.
The world’s counting on it.