By Peter D. Schaller
It’s hard to believe that once upon a time, not too long ago, I was a political junkie.
My undergraduate degree was littered with political science courses and I went on to study for a Master’s in Public Administration, with a concentration in policy analysis. I was particularly fond of Latin American politics and at one point, could name all of the heads of state, from Canada right down to the tip of Chile, as well as their ideological leanings.
I followed trade agreements, development goals, human development indexes, climate change summits and a host of other political tools that are designed to inform us about the state of the world.
But at some point, a few years ago, I turned it all off and tuned myself out.
It’s not that I stopped believing in political systems, or questioned their importance. Governments are important, politicians are important, policies are important. The quality of our lives depends, in large part, on the optimal functioning of the political systems in the world.
But, there was one thing that became increasingly clear to me. Politics don’t change people.
Although there used to be few things that made my blood flow like a good old fashioned, ideological debate, I don’t think I ever changed anyone’s mind. In fact, I’m not sure I have ever seen anyone’s life changed because of politics.
What became increasingly clear to me is that people change because of relationships- intimate, compassionate relationships. So, if we see someone who exercises some type of harmful behavior (racism, misogyny, violence, environmental negligence, etc.), it is highly unlikely that even the most finely crafted political argument we can muster will result in behavioral change; unless, we have constructed a trusting relationship first.
And so, witnessing the current presidential election has been a bit of a challenge for me. It’s like standing on the banks of a muddy, turbulent river.
I have been tempted to dive in, at times, because there is so much to say. But, I also know that if I succumb to those nasty, rushing waters, I will probably sink in the slimy depths. I have waded in, on a couple of occasions, out of necessity or curiosity or a strange mixture of both. However, as an adamant third party supporter, I have been fairly well bludgeoned by folks on both sides of the aisle, who find it unfathomable that I am not satisfied with the corporate, political offerings.
The thing is, I can’t stop thinking about the election, not because I think the outcome will have such an enormous bearing on our existence, but because the hateful divisiveness of this campaign weighs heavily on my soul. I think it is safe to say that this will likely go down in history as one of the most regrettable and embarrassing campaigns in the history of the United States.
I have started to write about the elections several times, but always got stuck before finishing.
I started writing about Alexander de Tocqueville’s brilliant analysis of civic America, and Robert Putnam’s lament that we are all too often Bowling Alone. I started to write about our selective moral outrage, turned on and off by the corporate media at will.
I started to write…and then stopped. I stopped because none of it seemed relevant enough to add to the filthy stream of words that was already flooding everyone’s news feeds.
But, before we reach that decisive moment on Tuesday and tempers, accusations, and intolerance begin to rear their ugly heads, I do want to share one thought.
We are in this together.
No matter what outcome the election may have, we are all in this together. I don’t mean necessarily as ‘mericans, patriotic beings of the greatest nation of earth. I mean, we are all in this together as living beings, part of something so much larger than any one of us, than any candidate, election, nation, religion, or other minor difference with which we identify.
We have so much more in common than we often choose to recognize. We need each other so desperately in order to thrive. We cannot continue to allow candidates, parties, and marketing disguised as journalism to keep pushing us apart.
The truth is, we are in this predicament largely because we have allowed our social and political systems to be bought out by special interests and corporate greed. We have allowed the increasingly monopolized media to control public opinion with mediocrely, selective reporting. Our country is not deteriorating because of immigrants, Muslims or other false enemies. We have simply slipped into apathy and inactivity.
On November 9th, no matter whose fist is thrust into the air with a hydraulic burst of ego, we must come together.
Alexander de Tocqueville said that “…the greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her own faults.”
We are all aware that there are so many faults to be repaired: race relations, religious tolerance, gender equality, climate change, economic justice… The next president will not repair these, it’s up to us. The United States is a participatory democracy, we simply seem to have forgotten about the “P” word.
The fact is, our votes won’t change the world, but our attitudes will.
Personally, I am much more concerned about the way we treat one another, than for whom we choose to vote. I am much more concerned about how involved we become in our communities, than the genetic makeup of Congress. Every relationship that we build can transform a life, and then comes the ripple effect.
Let’s work towards building those intimate, life changing relationships in our own communities.
Let’s take action to repair our faults.
We can become involved in committees at school or church. We can join local environmental groups that work to preserve parks and green areas. We can volunteer to tutor, mentor or simply provide friendship to those members of the community who most need our support.
Most of all, we can express love, gratitude, respect and compassion towards everyone. Each of us must work tirelessly to promote trust, understanding and unity wherever we go.
Remember, we are all in this together.
Editor: Dana Gornall