The Political Engagement For Which We Should All Strive

It's always struck me how the religious realm sometimes finds a way to make it into regular life. Occasionally, if the world needs to hear a message, the message seems to find a way to get out there, even for those of us afflicted with Catholicism.

Unlike the more evangelical denominations, who's preachers are allowed to, how shall we say it, do whatever the hell they want, Catholics and many other mainline protestant denominations follow what's known as a liturgy, which is basically a fancy church way of saying that the readings were all picked out by the church years ago in advance, and as a result everyone is going to hear the same thing this weekend whether it fits with anything happening currently in our world or not.

So I couldn't help but notice that in the midst of our current political environment (which, if you haven't noticed, is toxic), that the Catholic Mass readings for the past several Sundays have been the Beatitudes. Ah, yes, the challenging part of Christianity. Not only do you have to love your neighbor, but then the game gets upped with a requirement to love your enemy. How are we supposed to do that?

It's as if someone is trying to send us a message.

The timing of this couldn't be any more co-incidental. Not only is this a challenge that, given our political state, we must try to rise up to, but I also promised my friend Tim Miles (who is a speaker, blogger and podcaster who writes really smart things about business and is much better at this than I ever will be) that I would behave myself in at least my next 3 blog posts after he generously plugged my blog in his podcast.

Is there any better way to behave oneself than to reference the Beatitudes? I don't think so, and it's not as if I don't need the message myself. I, too, can be a little bit of an antagonist in the political realm.

It's an easy trap to fall into. Someone says something outlandish? Come back with a reply to take them down a notch. Someone takes a position that is at odds with your worldview? Categorize them as being part of a class that is beneath you.

And what does this behavior accomplish? More respect? Changed minds? Not really. Maybe you get a momentary feeling of satisfaction from it, but the long-term effect is simply more bitterness and divisiveness.  

So, what does this mean? What are we supposed to change? Should we no longer argue politics? Do we no longer get to take a stand for the values we hold dear? No, but we do need to bring respect and decency back into it. 

I often can't help but notice we say things on Facebook to strangers that we would never say in person with anyone we would want to maintain any sort of relationship with. I've noticed that so much of our discourse involves tearing down groups and ways of thinking than it does promoting our own ideas. 

Yes, you should you stand up for your ideals. Yes, you should continue to contribute to our national discourse?

What we must get better at is promoting our ideas based on the merits of those ideas, and not based on the merits of what other ideas lack, or what we don't like about the people promoting them. 

Sometimes I wonder if we don't argue as much as we do because we've simply fixed a lot of the easy-to-fix problems. If you look at our country today, there has never been a better time to be alive. Our health care is pretty good. Most of us have enough food to eat. 

The issues we face today are the hard-to-solve issues. How do we balance the right to own weapons with the fact that people get killed by bad guys with them. How do we maintain our status as a beacon of hope in the world for immigrants without letting bad guys in or having it impact our quality of life. What sort of special rights should minorities receive? How do we repair relationships between racial minorities and police when those poor relationships go back generations upon generations.

Fixing those problems takes thought, a sense of empathy towards others, and a sense of realism. Maybe you've heard the phrase that says, "If you're not a liberal at 20, you don't have a heart. If you're not a conservative at 40, you don't have a head."

It's an over-simplification, of course. The truth is there are plenty of 40-year-old liberals and plenty of 20-year-old conservatives, and we need people with both hearts and heads to solve our problems.  

Not to be all Kum ba yah with this thing, but that really is the reason why we need everyone to participate. 

But our motivations as we try to tackle our problems are critical. We have to ask ourselves what our motivations are for taking the positions we take in the first place, and whether those positions are designed to help people or to get back at them. Sometimes, it seems like we take positions just to satisfy a political ideology that we've decided to give ourselves. The notion of "I'm a proud (insert ideology here), and so I believe (insert position here)," is backwards.

I have a theory that if you were to take a staunch liberal and staunch conservative, force them to get to know each other first, and then lock them in a room and tell them they can't come out until they reach consensus on how to solve several contentious issues, that the ideas they come back with would be really pretty good. That's the type of problem solving you get when you have people who mutually respect each other and try to listen to each other come together with intellectual honesty and try to work things out for the benefit of everyone.

And I guess it all really comes down to that. Be respectful & try to help people. If we're looking for direction on the type of political engagement we should all strive for, that's really all we need to do.

I'm an independent-leaning blogger and podcaster who is often wrong but insists on writing about politics anyway. If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll follow me on Facebook at the link below.