What does John McCain have to do to turn around this election? What does Obama need to do to hold on to his lead? Better yet: What do we have to do as everyday leaders to emerge as better citizens with a stronger democracy? Start, I suppose, by asking that question: What do WE do?
As we took a break from visiting my mom after her successful heart surgery, two of my sisters – the political extremes among the seven of us siblings – engaged with each other about the race, abortion, racism, and experience. Wow, that was precarious! And heated. It’s hard when our models for these conversations are people like Rush Limbaugh or Keith Olberman who are great at ranting and exaggerating and distorting, but mostly listen only to find a word or phrase they can twist and turn to their advantage. Remarkably, my sisters managed to fight the inevitable human and familial tendencies to fight or flee, to try to overwhelm the other or to flat-out give up in frustration. I believe that just such conversations are essential for all of us, critical for our democracy.
The negativity and inaccuracies emerging in the final weeks of campaign TV are absurd. The dumbing down to Joe the Plumber, and (seriously), Al the Dairy Man, aren’t just insulting.* If unchecked by us, we will ensure that we’ll get more and worse thrown at us. If we don’t create a sensible middle, a common sense discussion, a more honest dialogue, then we will only make ourselves more vulnerable next time to distortion and ridiculous pandering. Would a candidate PLEASE tell us where we’ll have to sacrifice, or where they’ll truly cut? Well they will, but only if we show – or create – enough sophistication and maturity among ourselves to give them hope that Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson) was wrong in A Few Good Men, when he said, “you can’t handle the truth.”
So, talk, but especially LISTEN to a neighbor in these last two weeks. See if you can handle their truth. See through honest, unaccusing questions if they can handle their truth when it’s tested by someone who takes their words seriously. Maybe we can find some common ground and some courage to face the really challenging issues that lies in front of us!
Open-eyed and open-minded,
Lead with your best self,