There are many reason why I spend my time writing this blog. Chief among them would be that writing is the common thread of my career. I need to write. No, I have to write. It’s the only thing that I never, ever tire of doing. I can sit at my computer for eight-hour stretches, barely refilling my coffee cup. Writing exercises my brain, keeps me engaged with current affairs and I admit it’s a great way to not finish the 100,000 word novel I started several years ago. Classic avoidance. My bad.
And then there are the wonderful friends we’ve made since moving to the Coachella Valley. They have graciously appointed me the unofficial social director. I suppose because I’m always so enthusiastic about the incredible culture that we find here and I’m so eager to share these things with others – our favorite (or not so favorite) restaurants; spectacular plays that we discovered; the world of books we were reading and other events such as ballets, operas, music – all the things that bring beauty into our lives. It’s fun, it’s light and airy. But…Occasionally, sigh, I just can’t help myself – I was born a serious child; I lose control and drift into other things that are on my mind. Like the phrase “hope springs eternal.”
We were spoonfed more than a few helpings of hope in the past couple of years. Hope is one of those words, like faith, that means whatever it is that you want it to mean. Being the eternal optimist, I’m always hoping for the best, but I’m also cynical enough to know that hope, in an of itself, can disappoint if the reasons for hope are not well grounded. We can hope we win the lottery, but we still need to buy a ticket, maybe dozens of tickets, to hedge the bet.
According to my research, hope springs eternal is part of a larger phrase, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast: Man never is, but always To be Blest.” The author was Alexander Pope, the 18th century English poet and satirist. Over the years it’s been attributed to many others including Earnest Lawrence Thayer in the baseball classic, Casey at The Bat. “A straggling few got up to go, leaving there the rest, With that hope which springs eternal within the human breast.”
I’m endlessly curious about why people think a certain way. How did they come to that conclusion? What formed their opinion? Did they read certain books that maybe I should read too? On Facebook I’ve noticed that some of the people whom you think are your friends are only interested in your thoughts if they already agree with you. They don’t mind telling you to pipe down. Ouch! I have a hard time with that thinking. But it does beg the question, why have we become so harsh with each other? A thoughtful discussion about whatever it is that has everyone all fired up would be more productive than a diatribe where I”m called a racist because I think differently. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m anything but a racist.
The current political environment is an opportunity for us all to explore and appreciate our different opinions and find the best solutions together, or at the very least, respectfully agree to disagree. It’s not about spewing hateful, personal remarks. Really now, isn’t that just a little cheap and lazy? Isn’t friendship about respecting your friends enough to hear their opinion and how they got to that place? I have many friends who don’t think as I do, but I still like them.
I’m a political junky but I don’t ever remember hearing such personal attacks in the course of social conversation. With the current climate of discourse I wondered if this is how the build-up to the Civil War felt. Then, the larger debate was as much about states rights and economic factors as it was about slavery, which was a by-product of the southern plantation system – a deplorable, despicable stain on our country’s history but one that, as Americans, we own.
I was raised in West Virginia, which actually became a state when Virginia seceded from the Union and West Virginia succeeded from the succession. Did you follow that? My fraternal grandfather (that’s right, my father’s father) fought with the North as a Union cavalry officer; another ancestor, a Confederate Captain, was captured by the North and died in a Union prison. My family tree is filled with brothers who fought against brothers, fathers who fought against sons, and cousins who fought against cousins. These irreconcilable differences were horrible for every family, but in the end, our country healed and was stronger than before.
Today the larger political debate is framed by two starkly differing philosophies of how our country should be governed; which direction we will choose in the 2012 election, and what our future should look like. Will we be more like European socialism or will we return to free market thinking? The passions fueling the debate are every bit as intense as those of the Civil War. People say we are a nation bitterly divided into red states and blue states. Will we ever be the same, regardless of the outcome? I doubt it, but one thing I do know. It’s making all of us think about what we stand for and what we believe in.
The debate reminds me of old saying: Shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves in three generations.” It’s an American translation of a Lancashire proverb: “there’s nobbut three generations atween a clog and clog.” Apparently there are other cultures with similar tendencies: In Italian it is “dalle stalle alle stelle alle stalle” (“from stalls to stars to stalls”). The Spanish say, “quien no lo tiene, lo hance; y quien lo tiene, lo deshance” (“who doesn’t have it, does it, and who has it, misuses it”). America is our family business. If families are a microcosm of our society, and if that society allows its founding principles to be discarded because “the spoiled and lazy third generation has no incentive/desire to run the family business,” will that society end up in the proverbial shirt sleeves. I hope not.
Today’s debate is extremely complicated and undoubtedly the most important of our lifetime, but I’m fearful that we are watching the end of a glorious experiment. We are no longer willing to listen, be informed and find common ground for compromise. Honest debate is drowned out by sound bites and misinformation fueled by a media that knows controversy equals ratings dollars.
I am hopeful that the worst characteristics in our human nature will not triumph, but if we don’t dial down the rhetoric, become better informed and find solutions that will work for all of us, it surely will.