30 July 2011

Looking For My Political 'Zen'

Dear Reader.

Once again I am seeing the truth of Oscar Wilde's observation, to wit, "They whom the gods would punish are granted their prayers." For some time I have lamented the lack of interest most people have in civic matters. Oh, they rouse for elections but in general (I muttered smugly to myself) but for the most part they are uninterested in civic questions.

Then came the debt ceiling debacle. People are aroused all right, but mostly (according to NPR at least) in sympathy with the "tea party" notion that compares national fiscal circumstances with a family budget. I believe this is a bad comparison, though understandably attractive. For one, governments can raise or lower their income at will, through taxes, while families can only spend what they can earn. Families in tough straights generally make sure the kids are fed and clothed, but the conservative plan to limit spending would cut back on education and such rather than ask more from the grownups.

I could go on, but the point is that people are engaged but not as I naively hoped. Hence Wilde's insight.

And that makes me crazy. Anyone (intelligent, of course) can see that I am right and they are wrong, that cutting budgets and not raising revenues is not only simplistic but draconian, and that the nation will be the worse for it. Right?

Then I remember two things.

1) I am still a human being, and thus just as likely to be wrong as anyone else. Yes, I believe in my values and principles and therefore think they would work for others, but even if they are I am far from perfect in living them or understanding them. My duty is not to teach others how right or wrong they are but to live more thoroughly by the principles I espouse and let my life teach more than my words.

2) I should not mistake my hopes and dreams for that of the nation or the world. Certainly I hope they overlap, a lot in fact, but no one died and made me the leader of the world. Whatever good I can do is not mine to define. Sure, I can stand up and speak out, and should, but whether others listen or care is up to them. And if they do, it is not due to my excellence and if they do not it is not due to their intransigence.

In other words, I need a more 'zen' attitude, to use a poor term. Buddhism teaches us to live with integrity by freeing ourselves from attachments to the world. Do good because it is good, not because people will approve. Speak and live with integrity for its own sake, not because you are right and want others to follow you.

In this contentious time, when it seems that success goes to those who believe in their own rightness and are willing to do whatever it takes to succeed, it is tempting to do just that. But my gut tells me that this is the wrong path. What, though, is the right way? I confess I am not sure.


Garnett said...

I can't help but believe the draconian (your word, Fred) requirements of the Right Wing of American Society is a reaction to anxiety about the world that is changing around them. Gay marriage is a reality - and I believe will be legal in all 50 states in my lifetime. The minority population in toto will out number the caucasion population of this country in the next decade, big trucks and cars are looked down upon as sinful by those of us who haul nothing bigger than a bag of potting soil, college - out of reach to many - is now vitually required for reaching any level of success and, perhaps worst of all, home ownership is no longer a guarantee of security in retirement. It's not a surprise that there's been a conservative backlash. The solution: time, which heals all (this I truly believe) and trust that just as slaves were freed, women got the vote, gays will universally be able to marry and Mexican and Asian Americans will blend into society just as our earlier immigrants have. In the meantime, those of us who have already accepted these ideas must continue to forge ahead and work for the common good. What else have we got?

michele said...

But, I also don't think it's a bad thing to urge people to speak up about ideals and principles in public fora, to minister to those who feel discouraged, demoralized, isolated or alienated. Knowing that one is not traveling alone, can save lives. It becomes "political," but I believe it's ministry.