It’s a day before the 2012 US presidential election. Susan Piver knows who she’s voting for. As for who she’s rooting for? The answer to that one, you’ll see, is “all of us.”
As you may know, I am a writer and blogger. I’m fortunate to have an active, caring audience and when I upload a post, it may get 10 to 100 comments, depending on the topic.
One post, from May 2, 2011 went viral and garnered thousands of comments, many of which were filled with vitriol and ridicule. “You are destroying our country, you f**king idiot,” “If you spent one day in the real world, you would probably get killed—good riddance.” And my favorite: “If these baboons had gotten their hands on nuclear weapons—you wouldn’t be sitting at your pretty little Mac going on about how conflicted you are.” (I am a Mac user—how did they know?!)
The post in question was called “Compassion for our Enemies.” It was published the day Osama Bin Laden was killed. In it, I thought I was being very clear that my argument was NOT with Bin Laden’s assassination but with our reaction to it—that if we treated it as some kind of touchdown boo-yah moment, we were strengthening the conditions that lead to more death and destruction, our own or others’. As we hold our victory with a sense of vengefulness, we create such vengefulness in our enemy. Thus it behooves us to actually care about them. In fact, there is no “them.” There is only “us.”
Apparently, this was an incendiary and absurd position to take.
Now it is election season in the US. It is almost impossible to avoid us-and-them thinking. The truth is, I want my candidate to win so badly. Anyone who wants the other candidate frightens me. They feel the same about me.
Half the people in our beloved country are saying about the other half, “How can anyone possibly think that way?” and “Those people are going to be the ruination of us.” We are pitted against each other, brother against brother. One side sees the other as socialist, elitist, un-American snobs who are at the very least utterly deluded or as ignorant, fundamentalist, uneducated hicks who are at the very least utterly deluded. Each side can come up with charts and graphs to demonstrate its own truths, beyond question.
Many (but not all) of our politicians encourage us to see each other in these ways and bank on our votes to be based on fear and ridicule rather than belief and devotion to country. They hope to win by causing us to fear, doubt, and dehumanize each other.
We do not have to do this.
When one side wins the election on November 6, the other side will lose. That’s just the way it is and I have no problem with that. We’re not always going to agree with each other. But it is our reaction to each other at the point of winning or losing that spells out our future more so than any policies of the winning side.
Right now, we have a chance to take a view that is so much larger than Obama or Romney, Us or Them, My Way or The Highway. Without budging an inch in what we believe and whom we support, we could take a moment, just a millisecond, to imagine that the “other” side feels as much passion, despair, longing, and fear about the election as we do. We could care about each other, American to American. As winners, we could seek ways to include the losers as we go forward rather than further ostracize them. As losers, we could redouble our efforts to fight for what we believe in from a sense of love for this country rather than hatred for the victors.
In these attitude shifts, even if we can only hold on to them for a moment, everything is possible. We could at least try.
When I touch in with the “truth” of my position, I feel hard and unforgiving. I hate other people. I find that I have enemies. When I touch in with my longing for our country to be a haven for goodness, decency, and tolerance, I feel sad. I see this sadness in everyone. I find that I have fellow travelers.
There is a Native American parable that goes something like this:
A Cherokee chief was teaching a young man about life. “There is a fight going on inside of me,” he said. “There are two wolves. One is full of rage, vengefulness, jealousy, and hate. The other is full of kindness, wisdom, and humility.” “Which wolf will win?” wondered the young man. “The one I feed,” said the old chief.
When we choose to nourish wolf number 2, we are not simply choosing what is righteous or morally superior. We are choosing the only path that leads to the kind of world we all want to live in, one where people are kind to each other, help out in times of need, celebrate victories and mourn losses with a sense of humbleness, and maintain a powerful sense of inner balance that enables us to hold these qualities through good times and bad.
You might wonder to yourself, but how can I be this open and generous in a world that is not? Well, somebody has got to go first. I vote for you.
When two great forces oppose each other,
the victory will go
to the one that knows how to yield.
– Lao Tzu
Sadly there is another large cohort anxiously watching the election. Its outcome will affect our lives in ways that could be hugely destructive, yet we have no vote and hardly any influence over the result. Not Democrat, Republican, nor Independent, we are of course the rest of the world. You are told nearly nothing about our politics or our aspirations, while we know as much as we could want and more of yours, and naturally your actions will affect us much more than ours you. It's too much to ask you to weigh our needs heavily on your way the polls, but please keep them in mind, and vote with some awareness of the global influence your vote carries.
Except the rest of the world isn't necessarily any more right. Frankly, we can all speak about enlightenment, but don't forget how robust the discussion is here in the United States. That's no accident. Our system is one of the bright lights on the planet.