By Guenevere Neufeld
An old high school memory popped into my head this week.
It was of an assembly near summer break where we voted in the class president for the following school term. There were two candidates, and each had a bit of time to speak to the crowd of students outlining their platforms.
The first had been involved in school politics for years. Tory was thoughtful, engaged in various school activities, seemed intelligent and was always kind—I’d even had a little crush on him in Junior High when our lockers were near each other and we were both involved in the school play. He spoke about issues that were pertinent to us kids back then. He spoke with calm confidence. He spoke with the knowledge that comes from years of being on school council.
I felt he spoke with a genuine desire to show up and represent the student population of our small high school.
The next candidate had no experience in school politics. I don’t remember his first name because everyone called him by a truncated version of his last name. “Fuj” was into sports. Fuj used the attention of the crowd of gathered students to do something other than speak. Fuj said he wanted to be class president so bad that he would take a football to the groin for us, à la that Simpson’s episode where Homer wants to vote for a video of the same name as the winner of Springfield’s film festival.
With the assistance of one of his football buddies, Fuj stood on the gymnasium floor with all of us gathered on the risers and let his friend throw a football at his groin.
The voting commenced shortly afterward. I don’t need to tell you who won.
We were kids. No one had taught us that entertaining gimmicks were nothing to invest any degree of power and leadership into.
I was relatively angry at the injustice. We had to face a year with a class president who rarely showed up and didn’t actually do anything; not to mention Tory lost out on a helpful gem to tag onto his C.V.
Now the fact is, I come from a small rural town in Southern Alberta, Canada. The degree of influence the class president for a school of less than 400 hundred students has is pretty minimal. A group of teenagers endorsing an unqualified candidate on the basis of a trick is not going to change the world, right?
Actually, when those teenagers grow up, the likelihood is that they will continue to make choices based on their emotions.
That’s why certain politicians the in United States have made it so far in the political process. Liking a candidate because they “tell it like it is” is no reason to vote them in as president. Neither is such sheer desperation to win that they take a football to the groin.
As a human being on this earth, I’ve been feeling anger at the United State’s election candidates, yet anger at Donald Trump for his campaign choices is as pointless as anger at those teenagers voting Fuj in as president. Anger isn’t going to get us anywhere helpful. We live in a society where petty games garner attention and thoughtful, engaged citizenry does not. The majority of people are more interested in “The Hunger Games” than the lived experience of a Syrian refugee fleeing everything they know to escape certain death.
Ted Cruz was spot on in America’s GOP debate last week. “Breathe. Breathe. You can do it,” he said to Trump.
I’m struck by these words. Words of wise guidance. Words of encouragement. What powerful words.
Watching the United State’s presidential election fills me with despair. Taking time in each moment, and each interaction with another being, to fill it with kindness and presence—with breath—gives me hope. I want to surround myself with a community that does the same and offers encouragement on my path of awareness, just like I’m interpreting Cruz’s words as.
When we sit with the awareness of the present moment or with our breath, uncomfortable things can arise.
Unfortunately, we’re not given tools in our typical Western upbringing to deal with them. Most often, we’re modeled avoidance, and often addictive behavior, to numb us. It’s easier to ignore an uncomfortable thought that comes up in a moment of stillness than to sit with it. It’s easier to be entertained by our emotions. It’s easier to laugh at the guy getting hit in the groin with a football, to admire a political candidate for their gumption and potentially charismatic personality.
It may be easier, but it rarely leads to nourishment of our whole selves. I know that an evening of Netflix is a lot easier than an evening of practice and journaling, but sometimes (okay, often), I choose Netflix.
When I can harness the power of presence to sit with uncomfortable moments, I feel a little lighter, and that’s the way I want our world to be: a little more light-filled.
I know that some of those teenagers who voted for Fuj that day went on to become thoughtful, present adults and each interaction they have with a person experiencing something uncomfortable is probably better for it.
Let’s fill the world with presence and positivity. Let’s breathe and encourage one another as we walk this earth.
Guenevere Neufeld spends some of her time travelling and some of her time living in one place. She likes to sing bhajans, swim in the ocean, and ask questions. With an undergraduate degree in English literature and a post-graduate diploma in journalism, her work has appeared in elephant journal, Geez Magazine and The Suburban. Connect with her on Facebook and Instagram or watch her TEDx.
Editor: Alicia Wozniak