Post Election Contemplation

The maps are checkered with blue and red. Glad to see some of the these guys get voted down. Happy that equal rights for some of my friends and family are spreading across this country slowly but surely. Obama wins the electoral college rather decisively, but I'm left with a feeling that it's a tie.

We need some mediation. We need some training in civility. My childhood friend and now peace educator, Stephanie Knox Cubban, recently posted this interview with author Parker J. Palmer; the piece talks about his book, Healing the Heart of Democracy.

Parker says this about his book:

Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering. That applies on every level of life. When individuals don’t know what to do with their suffering, they do violence to others or themselves — through substance abuse and extreme overwork, for example. When nations don’t know what to do with their suffering, as with the U.S. after 9/11, they go to war. I think it’s pretty evident by now that what we did in the wake of 9/11 only escalated our tensions with the Middle East and didn’t reduce the threat to this country. Surely our suffering could have led to more-creative actions and outcomes.

You can watch this play out with 3 year olds. When one of them feels hurt, ignored or otherwise wronged, they often don't know what to do with that suffering. They hit, push, or yell.

I saw a lot of this during the campaigning when it came to issues with the economy, particularly job loss. For people dealing with chronic or lengthy unemployment, the suffering isn't so much with the lack of money...but with the loss of purpose, with the loss of their provider role to their family, or their sense of belonging in the world. This suffering clouded the debate with blame towards Obama or Bush or regulation or bailout, and shut down any creative responses to the problem.

Palmer also talks about entitlement:
One of the problems with a lot of educated, reasonably well-off white males like me is our sense of entitlement. We’re too often driven by the thought that we’re supposed to be getting more than anybody else. When we don’t, it creates resentment and separates us from others and from our true selves. 

 Entitlement played an ugly and prominent role in campaign speech. I thought Romney was absolutely heartless and sick when I heard the way he ranted against people who believe they are "entitled to health care, to food, to housing..." But I heard equally vicious rants coming from those 47%-ers against the wealthy people who do not wish to be the only ones in the country footing the tax bill. We don't need to get in a debate about whether suffering for lack of food is the same as suffering for lack of third vacation home or whatever it is that wealthy people do with all of this extra money they wish to hang on to. The point is that both parties feel suffering to some degree and lash out before any kind of productive dialogue can take place.

How do we fix it?

Start by getting to know some people who are different from you. This is sort of hard, because mostly, Americans live pretty segregated lives. It's also incredibly uncomfortable to cross cultural and racial boundaries at times. Sometimes language barriers prevent us from talking to each other. Sometimes we don't like what we hear because it challenges core beliefs we've carried our whole lives. Nine times out of ten, when I come out of an interaction with someone who is really different from me, and I've listened to them, soaked up some of their story....well, I don't feel awesome. I feel threatened. I feel confused. I see the remaining black and white divisions that remain in my brain getting clouded into Gray.

But I sit with it. I carry their story with me. It shapes my future decisions in subtle ways. It pauses my overly quick judgment.

That's what we really need. Less quick judgment. Less sound bites from the pundits. We need to carry with us real stories of our fellow Americans so that the next time we vote, we are doing so out of a shared commitment to our country and everyone who lives here.


Thom Cmar said...


k said...

One thing that's nice about re-electing the incumbent is that you can get started right away. Who is listening to the President's address right now? Who is panicking about the financial cliff?