Friday, August 24, 2012
Gratitude, Politics and Religion: A Rambling
The first real imprint that came to me was about thankfulness. I know that word gets thrown around a lot around a certain holiday each Fall, but when else is it something I am actually cognizant of personally? I am grateful for a good nights sleep, a safe and clean place to live, a kitchen full of nutritious food, a stable and good job that I actually enjoy, for my beautiful little sports car that I enjoy driving and maintaining. There are so many things in my life that make it rich each day that I accept and enjoy, most of the time without a second thought. I have parents who are still married and love each other and us very much I have siblings, though at times distant and busy as we all can be, who love me too, despite our differences. I am thankful for my family. I know that the foundation of acceptance and love that they have added to my life is an asset and blessing that is rare these days. If I were to doubt that, I merely have to look at my friends lives and the fragmented groups of people they come from and deal with on a daily basis.
I could attempt to list all the people, things, ideas and advantages that my life holds but I would rather hold onto the idea that all of us, regardless of our station or status in life, have something to be thankful for. It is not a contest or some comparison that will reap the winner an added measure of satisfaction, but rather a shifting of focus on being appreciative for the many great and good things in my life rather than a fixation on what I do not have, or what I want or believe I need to be truly happy. I want to attempt to carry this thought with me through this day, if not every day. My realization of what I do have is contrasted by the times in my life when I have been in want, in need and desired to be in the position and place that I am today. In many ways, I did get what I wished for, I just have not taken the time to realize that and be grateful as I should. I am truly blessed.
After I came back inside, while kicking that idea around in my head, another tangled ball of thoughts surfaced. I am not going to be able to express it fluidly, as that is not how it exists in my mind, but it is the contrast, comparison and similarity that religion and politics hold to each other, at least the way they are expressed and communicated about in this country. A lesson I have been applying in my life the last few months comes from a sentiment that my grandmother said to me one year at a holiday gathering at the farm. She said that polite people do not discuss religion or politics. She was referencing the row going on in the great room between all the rest of the guys and at the time I thought she was making that observation based on the idea that we all just "need to get along". To be honest, I never really thought about it all that much and grew up like the rest of my family and friends, arguing and debating about both topics and then wondering at the strife and conflict it created in the family, friends and groups around me.
I am not saying that I do not believe in anything by not joining those conversations and discussions. I am not living in apathy to the very real problems presented by both institutions by my unusual and new marked silence when such topics arise. I am merely choosing to take a moment, recognize them for what they are and hold my peace. I choose not to speak. For the things I do believe in, be they spiritual or pertaining to the self governing of our nation, I choose to do something. That, for me, has been a picture of disengaging my mouth and putting into action my daily choices. Noise, rhetoric, argument, debate and conflict have become the expression of intent and are leaving people satisfied while never really accomplishing anything except idle and empty words. Most people, by and large, believe themselves to be right. That is something I can wrap my mind around, as I experience it myself to some extent every day. What I do not understand, though I participated in it by learned example for years, is the overwhelming need and insatiable addiction people have for not only believing something themselves but then having to convince every single last person who disagrees with them that they are wrong and must come to an agreement with them.
I see now my grandmother was right. Polite people do not talk about politics and religion. They are both deeply personal matters and should be left as such. It does not mean they cannot be discussed, but the questions we ask each other, are they to expose another persons position in order to launch a counter attack to change them to our views, or are they a caring conversation to truly get to know another person better? I like how Glenn Greenwald put it. "I don't have a 'side'—I'm responsible for what I say and nothing else."
People love to argue. They love to be right. There is some visceral satisfaction they gain by "proving" someone else wrong and emerging as the victor, if only in their own mind. I understand that. I used to relish it too. It no longer has an attraction to me. I do not think that is what politics and faith are about or should be serving. In the end, you are alone in a voting booth and in the end of life, whatever your hopes and beliefs may be about that, you die alone as well. Maybe that fear of being alone coupled with the insecurity of self doubt is what the arguing is really all about. We fear being alone.
Why can't we talk about that for a change?