Today is election day here in these United States. Never in my life have I witnessed a more contentious and bizarre spectacle as that which has plagued us for the past year or so. And yet, I have to wonder; what does all of this sound and fury really have to do with me as an individual? Am I expected to take sides? Am I somehow a terrible American if I don’t? I guess it all depends on who you ask.
I’ve done my civic duty and cast my vote, despite arguments by friends and acquaintances that the system is irrevocably broken and my vote doesn’t matter anyway. I’ve voted my conscience and discussed it with nobody, because, quite frankly, it is nobody’s business but my own. And, like everybody else drawn into this melodramatic democratic circus, I wonder what tomorrow will bring.
If I am to be perfectly honest, I had hoped to live out my life without ever witnessing the breakdown of our society. History tells us it is inevitable. Technology has dragged us kicking and screaming out of the quagmire of seclusion and national uniformity. We have, at our fingertips, answers to questions that plagued us for generations. We have windows into other worlds, other cultures, other traditions. We are on the brink of sweeping change that will nullify some of the basic tenets of our nationality. For better or worse, revolution is upon us.
And so we adapt. The question is, will we evolve into something better, or dig in for what we see as an assault on our beliefs and principles? It’s a difficult question, because not everybody welcomes change. And whether we fall on one side or the other of that question, lines will be drawn, battles will be waged and flags will be flown. And through it all, the question will be, what about me? What about what I want? What about what I deserve?
Therein lies the problem.
When I was young, manners mattered. Being kind to strangers and giving people the benefit of the doubt was encouraged. People were innocent until proven guilty. Traditions different from our own, were honored and America was touted as a great “melting pot” of races, cultures and ideas. The battles being waged were meant to benefit many, not a few. Equal rights made sense and the arguments for them were powerful, because they were about “we” not “I.”
I keep hearing that people today are “angry” and “fed up.” But I listen to the arguments and they all seem one-sided. Nobody listens to the opposition. There is no compromise. It always seems to come down to what “I” think, what “I” want, what “I” believe is true. It isn’t so much a national debate as a shouting match. Like religion, it comes down to believing whole-heartedly in the things “I” agree with and discarding anything that might throw those beliefs into question.
So here’s what “I” am going to do in the coming days, weeks and years of fallout and mobocracy. “I” am going to go on living my life the way I always have. “I” am going to let kindness and encouragement be my guides. “I” am going to keep my opinions to myself whenever possible. “I” am going to continue in my mission to make the world a little bit better for those around me. “I” am going to give the benefit of the doubt to those who are rumored to slander me and “I” am going to steer clear of those who have been proven to do so. I will have nothing to do with those who libel me, or whose modus operandi is boorishness and cultivated ignorance.
I am going to be the best person I can possibly be, under the circumstances. I am going to accept my shortcomings and the shortcomings of those dearest to me. I am going to continue trying to make this world a better place for everybody. I am going to be a teacher who shares my knowledge with those who can benefit most from it. I am going to be happy and I am going to listen and, yes, I am also going to dismiss those who believe shouting and bullying are the answer.
Because quite frankly, “I” don’t have time for disaffected and discourteous bullshit. “I” believe “we” are stronger working together. And “we” – the artists, the musicians, the actors, the writers, the architects of beauty and hope – despite being a minority in this country, can bring about change in those willing to listen and have faith in their own humanity. There is no hope in uniformity, nor in divisiveness. By being the best “me” I can possibly be, “I” can do everything within my limited power to make this world a better place for all of us. No matter what tomorrow brings.