Politics and The Wisdom of Elwood

"'In this world... you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.' Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant."
 
- Elwood P. Dowd

Jimmy Stuart as Elwood P. Dowd in the 1950 film Harvey

This week I find myself more aware than usual of the fragility and finite state of life.  So I have been considering the sort of impact I want to make with the time I have.  Despite the overwhelming minutia of our lives, when we are gone, it is likely to be the gist of us that is remembered.  And it has occurred to me what a shame it will be when I am gone if, of all the things that can be said about a person, one of the general things that sticks out in people's minds about me is that I was willing to employ any tactic at all for the sake of winning an argument.  But this trait seems to be increasingly common and acceptable within our starkly polarized culture. (It is one I certainly cannot claim to have never possessed.)  Instead, I hope someday it can be said that I made real connections with people, whether we agreed on most things or not; that I sought to increase understanding rather than to establish dominance during interactions with others.

There is endless conflict in our world.  Political power plays, divergent economic philosophies, religious strife and related violence are as old as civilization and abundant as ever.  What humanity needs is for calm, productive dialogue to prevail and more people to seek to bridge gaps, not widen them.  These things don't come easily.  For me, as for anyone I think, it is easier to give in to natural human tendencies to fear unfamiliar people, disdain those whose ideas I disagree with, stereotype other groups, blame others' ideologies for "this country's problems,"  and seek out ideological opponents' personal, intimate weaknesses in an effort to invalidate their official stances and silence their positions.  Choosing to rise above the fear and anger of living to allow others their voice, value differences, celebrate commonalities, and appreciate our society's political process - gridlock, compromise, messiness, occasional madness and all - requires a constant and deliberate effort.  Learning to create a fair and loving atmosphere for the discussion of opposing ideas is not a skill that can be attained at some point in life and then checked off of one's existential to-do list.  Rather, the realization of these values and traits takes a lifetime to develop and hone and strengthen and maintain - it is a work in progress, like I am - but what could be more worthy of my striving?

 
- Sarah
 
 
Sarah Grace shares simplification, parenting and other lifestyle insights at lifeflipping.net
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