Political Uncertainty

polling the masses

On social media several months back, I made a post that was, by all counts, neutral. (By the way, “by all counts” is code for “in my opinion.”) Some of my readers understood my message to be one of uncertainty and proceeded to try to persuade me to line up behind her or his candidate. So, in a comment, I stated that I would not vote for either.  There was no political uncertainty in my mind because I was aware of what I did not want as a leader.

I still don’t want those things in a leader. Yet, I will vote and, after looking at the third and fourth candidates and their platforms, I will vote for either Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton. But my political uncertainty is back.

The subject of politics comes up in almost any context I find myself. Three times yesterday. Two times the day before. I even had a discussion with a kind Swiss anthropologist somewhere in the air between Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania and Zurich, Switzerland last month.

It  has surprised me that I have learned something new in almost every conversation.

First, I’ve learned that a good number of those participating in my unscientific and stealth poll have not spent a lot of time studying the major issues. Among this group are those people who support Mr. Trump and base that support on how funny it is when he says something . . . Trumpish. Also in this group are those who have ignored Mrs. Clinton’s platform with the lofty belief that all-things-Republican are stupid. I wouldn’t classify these people — on either side of the aisle — as deplorable. But they do seem to be woefully uninformed. And, I’m not making a statistical study here, but there appear to be a lot of them.

Second, I’ve discovered that there is a substantial group of voters who will make their decision based on a single policy or issue. They truly understand what is at stake for that particular issue and they stand strongly with their candidate on that basis. Their focus on that single issue justifies their choice — and their decision to ignore all else.

Third, I have had the opportunity to talk with a very few individuals who are making a broader analysis of the candidates and basing their decision on a careful weighing of the impact of the election on multiple issues. I specifically selected some of these people because I had hope that I could gain direction from them — and perhaps I wouldn’t have to do the hard work of discerning all those things on my own. The problem is that I have different priorities and, in some cases, beliefs.

Frankly, I’m frightened by the choices we have — and have been in every presidential election in recent years. We have to reboot our political system. The tried and true party system is largely failing us. We have been sitting back and letting others think for us.

As painful as it has been, political uncertainty has been a tremendous blessing for me. For the first time in years, I’ve been forced to think. It’s not always comfortable. But it’s one of the highest plateaus of freedom.

Diplomacy

it's not just about getting your way

This morning, I was able to hear an excerpt from President Obama’s press conference in China. This trip has seen what appears to be purposeful disrespect from the Chinese, the announcement of North Korean missile test firings, a missed opportunity to come to agreement with Russia about the conflict in Syria, and now an open challenge from the Philippines president as to what our President may or may not address in upcoming conversations. President Obama, arguably the most powerful individual in the world, responded with diplomacy.

No, my right-leaning friends, it wasn’t weakness on his part. And no, my left-leaning friends, it wasn’t genius.

It was diplomacy.

Whether they were well-planned or spontaneous, his answers were appropriate and, well, diplomatic. By addressing the inquiries with calmness, reflection, and a careful choice of words, President Obama assured that he — and thus we, as a nation — continued to have a place at the table. I appreciate diplomacy. It keeps dialog alive.

I am not a fan of all of President Obama’s policies and strategies. Yet, I do respect him and the way that he goes about his work. Among many other good things, he is a diplomat.

Odd, isn’t it, that we have chosen a system of elections that no longer honors diplomacy? Instead, we now seem to appreciate and value violent confrontation. Perhaps it isn’t always physical, yet we have seen rhetorical violence lead to violence. We teach our children that shouting louder, exhibiting anger, and refusing to consider ways to work together is the way to get ahead in life. In polite parenting circles and in our parent-teacher conferences, we decry such behavior. Yet, that’s what we demand of the candidates in our political system. Our children are our witnesses to our choices.

Our current election system is focused on power.

Here’s a short history lesson: When power dominates, over time we push for laws to form boundaries to limit power. When laws abound, bureaucracy grows. When bureaucracy grows, certain groups, empowered by the privilege created by bureaucracy assemble power. You would assume that this would be an endless cycle. But every so often there is a hiccup. Those not empowered become frustrated and desperate. Revolution. Chaos. A new power base is formed — often from an outside force that celebrates this moment of weakness. Rarely is this disruptive force beneficial.

The only remedy for this self-destructive path is dialog, understanding, and collaboration. Yes, my colleagues and my students in conflict resolution, the answer is a focus on the interests of all involved. Diplomacy is an essential part of the picture.

Yet, we, the voters, demand blood.

I left out another important piece of that history lesson. Most often, the voters get what they ask for.

Maybe we should be asking for more diplomacy, longer sessions at the table and fewer knock-out blows.

Remember, most often, you’ll get what you ask for.

Photo on 7-13-14 at 7.39 AMA matter receiving great public attention stands before me. Despite my compulsion to join in the conversation, I realize how right both sides of the controversy are and, lacking the words to bring the opposing views together, I fall silent. And, thus, I fail, wholly and completely. — Joey Cope

Trade-Offs

it's the name of the game

Politics is all about trade-offs. Compromise. Concessions. Politicians make deals to gain support. Voters, a complex and complicated group, have to decide what is most important, what is their priority, what is their trade-off. Although it’s a serious game, it’s a game.

I can’t look at a news source or open my social media without being drawn into thinking about politics. On social media, I have expressed some of my opinions in ways, that I believe, allowed others to hold on to theirs. I’ve not tried to be persuasive, only thoughtful.

So, having more important things to address at this stage of my life, my last word on politics as I withdraw for a season. Whoever you are, whatever you believe about the candidates, you are simply wrong. Why? Because choosing a candidate in the present age is about trade-offs, at least if you are truly aware of the issues at stake. If you’re honest with yourself, you know your choice is wrong for some reason. Or, more dangerously, if you’ve chosen a candidate and you believe you’ve made no trade-offs, you are more delusional than the candidates themselves. At least they know, deep inside, of the compromises they’ve made.

It’s the whole “putting faith in man” scenario. It’s never worked out perfectly. Choose a candidate. Make it for the reasons you can live with.

The Art of Regret

living with less than perfect

Coming face to face with regret has become a daily routine for me. Perhaps it’s because I’ve become more contemplative. Or maybe it’s just because all of those things-I-should-or-shouldn’t-have-done have just reached critical mass and the momentum is simply overpowering. If it’s the latter, I regret that.

I came across this quote and found some comfort there.

Author Unknown
Never be defined by your past. It was just a lesson, not a life sentence.

In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that I copied it on an envelope yesterday and forgot about it . . . and threw the envelope in recycling. I regret that.

Fortunately, I retrieved it and I have it. Reading through it again, I am impressed with its wisdom and would really like to know who said it. But, a quick search online yielded nothing. So, for now, this source of wisdom is simply unknown. I regret that.

I had dinner with an old friend this week and discovered things that I wish I had known — of difficulties and triumphs in his life. And a rediscovery of why he was a friend and has stayed a friend, though distant, all these years. In those discoveries, I realized I had missed some truly great things. I regret that.

I sat with two more recent friends who are going through something terrifying. Talked and texted with two more whose marriages are suffering. Saw pictures that reminded me of things I wished I could do. Remembered moments that I failed. Realized that it will be hard to make amends. I regret all of that.

We face our regrets most often with statements beginning, “I wish . . .” Yet, I know that I was called to have more than regrets. I am empowered to do more than wish. For just like the rest of you, I was given a new day and a chance to do better. I can never fully repair all the things I have broken nor accomplish all the things that were possible. But in this new day, I can make a better decision, have a longer conversation, find more patience within me, seek moments for peace and reconciliation.

And even though I most likely will mess up, I have no regrets for the new days ahead.

Regret is simply a teacher, the lesson learned a treasure.