In some position or another, I have been involved in public service for over 50 years. Politics fascinates me. I’ve hungered for political news and studied in depth the pros and cons of major issues. Recently, however, during the impeachment hearings I’ve been sickened by the petty put-downs, the truth-stretching, the prevarications, the outright falsehoods and the name calling.
This scenario is not unfamiliar. But this time, it was just too much. There are those who rationalize that politics has always been that way. “That’s just the way it is,” they say. Their observation may be right, but their rationalization is just plain wrong.
It doesn’t have to be that way. It shouldn’t be that way. Leaders are clearly inappropriate when they make up derogatory names for their opponents and make fun of their physical appearances. Firing and demonizing people, who have legitimate concerns about their leaders’ actions, deters public officials from coming forward when they perceive wrongdoing. Leaders are childish when they very publicly and insultingly rip up opponents’ formal speeches.
These are people being observed by our youth – by the next generation of leaders. And our children are supposed to be emulating them? I hope not.
One of the great blessings of my life is to have been raised by a Republican mother and a Democrat father. Since early childhood, I’ve learned to understand there is more than one way to perceive issues and more than one way to resolve them.
Anger, resentment and outright fighting is not the answer in physical nor in verbal form.
I spend every Saturday morning working with inmates at the Utah State Prison. Many of them are there because of their inability to control their anger.
Edgar is one of my friends there who’s been in prison since he was 18 years old. Now in his early 30s, he’s spent his entire adult life behind bars. He’s there because he was found guilty of the death of another person in a fight. It took Edgar several years in prison, in lockup, in restrictive discipline experiences, before he finally concluded that fighting was not working for him. His subsequent change of heart has put his energy into the attainment of two bachelor’s degrees and his current work on a master’s degree. This spring, he’ll participate in a college ethics bowl with Weber State, Utah State and Utah Valley university students. Hopefully he’ll be released soon as a productive citizen and with a rewarding attitude.
Edgar’s previous tendency to inflict physical harm on perceived enemies can be analogous to verbal abuse we sometimes inflict on each other, not only in political contests, but also in other arenas of life.
The use of nasty words, destroying someone’s reputation, holding onto resentment and anger, is like carrying a big bag of rocks wherever we go. Our actions unjustifiably retard the success of others while the weight of that bag of rocks also impairs our own progress.
People can change. Edgar changed. We can all change. We all can be a little more respectful.
One way to do that is through introspection, which can lead to mindfulness and meditation and prayer.
During one of my weekly visits with my inmate friends, Edgar and his fellows and I read a thought-provoking passage from the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous:
“Perhaps one of the greatest rewards of meditation and prayer is the sense of belonging that comes to us. We no longer live in a completely hostile world. We are no longer lost and frightened and purposeless. The moment we catch even a glimpse of God’s will, the moment we begin to see truth, justice and love as the real and eternal things in life, we are no longer deeply disturbed by all the seeming evidence to the contrary that surrounds us in purely human affairs.”
This Valentine’s week is a good time to consider the good we can share as opposed to the petty bitterness we can develop over differences in viewpoints.
In their book “The Book of Joy,” The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu tell us “the ultimate source of happiness is within us,” and “we can grow in kindness when our kindness is tested.”
Deferential listening to others and to our better inner voice before opining is a good way for politicians and all of us to demonstrate kindness, learn from one another and create a more cooperative, progressive society.