We are in the middle of a contentious election. And that is perhaps an understatement. There’s lots of opinions flying around, and even some violent displays of opinions. So this is a serious conversation. I don’t want to come off like I am taking the reality lightly. But I am doing my best to treat politics as a footnote for myself and other people.
I realize that statement can come across as a lot of things. Blind. Ignorant. Perhaps demeaning and even racist. It’s perhaps easy to say I am going to reducing a system that is oppressing people to a footnote because I am not part of the group being oppressed. But let me explain a little further.
My hope for the future does not rest in politics. Whether he actually said it or not, Albert Einstein is often quoted as saying some version of the phrase “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” I see the problems in our current society. And they are massive problems indeed even to the level that I am aware of them. The problems are not to be taken lightly or labeled as a footnote. But the same thinking that created the problems will not solve them. If there is a problem in politics, throwing more politics at it is unlikely to solve it.
It is my view that politics is a reflection. It is a reflection of people’s values. Right now in America, we place value on people who are larger than life. They have a big persona. They have confidence and stage presence. They have grandeur and wealth and fame and beauty. As a sidenote, we like it when they have integrity and character, but that is a bit of a secondary request. It’s not surprising to me that President Trump was elected out of that value structure. I think he is every bit the president we deserve. Is the solution to vote? Well that is definitely a part of it. But if the alternative to one big persona is another big persona, neither possessing deep character and underlying integrity, we might flop a few surface values, but wind up in a similar place.
Now, I’m not saying that Biden has no integrity. I’m saying the problem is us. Our values are the problem. In a democracy, we select leaders that reflect our values. If we are looking for a solution to our political woes, it seems to me the solution is to shift our own value structure. What if we stop putting “larger than life” personalities on a pedestal? What if we think about what types of people we are revering? And begin to shift that mentality in ourselves.
But the biggest question in my mind is how can we solve the political chasm between people that seems to just be widening? I watched an interview with Malcolm Gladwell recently where he was asked how we can have conversations with people on the opposite side of a political divide. His response was very powerful to me. He said we should stop assuming that people’s political views are the most interesting thing about them, and look for other common ground.
There are a lot of things people could learn about me. I write, that is something that is pretty obvious if you are reading this. I am a husband and father to two young boys. I also play guitar. I like to read and write science fiction and fantasy. I like to play board games. I follow Jesus, though I struggle with the associations of calling myself a Christian. I love math and science. I also sew. I like programming. I am a learner. I have been learning Tai Chi and meditation. I would like to learn about nutrition and cooking. Oh, and I’m an electrical engineer.
And somewhere in the middle of all that, there must be a footnote about my political views. A few years ago I took an online quiz that labeled me as a centrist. I don’t tend to think in extremes. There might be some that would say I haven’t chosen a side. To that I would say I have chosen a side. That is the side of not elevating politics as the thing that will save us all from ourselves.
Right after I watched the interview with Gladwell, I went to buy a used TV from somebody on Facebook marketplace. I pulled up outside a swanky, newly built house in the suburbs with a Trump sign prominently displayed on the lawn. I hesitated for a moment, wondering how I felt about the transaction. Then I realized that I knew absolutely nothing about this person. He might be just like me. He might be a father and husband. He might like board games and Tai Chi. We might align in every other category of life and just have differing views on politics. Now, I know that is unlikely. But most importantly, I realized that his political support of Trump might be the least interesting thing about him. And I was able to interact with him the same I would with any other person. Because that is all he was. Just another person. It helped to treat politics as a footnote in his life as much as mine.
I believe I am supposed to be a writer. And I believe I am supposed to inspire and equip people to become their best selves. My hope is in people being transformed. And my belief is that politics will catch up. If politics is just a reflection of what we value, then we have a long way to go before we see the politics we want. Let’s not wait for the politicians to get the political divide sorted. If the change already exists, the politicians should eventually catch up. But let them be the footnote in the story of transformation rather than the driving factor.