Monday, August 16, 2010

A More Perfect Union

This week's newspaper column: (Read it in the Hattiesburg American)

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

When taken to heart and followed up with action, this is one of the most empowering and result-generating quotes I’ve ever come across. Of course, these words of wisdom were uttered by a meek, 90 pound man who was credited with breaking the will of the mighty British Empire and gaining independence for the nation of India - one Mahatma Gandhi.

On a more personal level, some years ago I was with a friend and mentor of mine – architect and futurist Doug Michels – when someone asked him if he was going to attend the big protest for I-can’t-remember-quite-what. He replied, “Absolutely not. People can protest if they want – I really don’t care – but I don’t think it does any good.” Doug went on to say, “I spend my time designing the world I’d like to see and I think that makes a much bigger impact.”

Imagine what TV news would be like if, instead of criticizing the motivations and actions of others, talking heads offered up discussions about their vision of the future and provided solutions to the issues of the day. Imagine the richness of the discussion if, instead of flame-throwing accusations and hyperbolizing about how the other guy’s policies are going to destroy everything, we had real visionaries collaborating in good spirit on ideas of how to make our lives better. I gave up television years ago exactly because of the divisiveness it fosters, but that would be television worth watching!

But divisiveness – “compare and contrast” is the gentle euphemism used most often – is what drives TV ratings, you say? Maybe so. Not politically smart, you say? Maybe so again. But where has this intellectual food fight in the form of constant criticism and assailed motives gotten us as a nation? Not very far. In fact, the more divisive we become, the more it seems we move backwards as a society.

I am old enough now to notice a discernable change in the way people argue. Once upon a time, there was an openness to ideas and a more collegial give-and-take when it came to debating issues. Now, it seems that arguments are more like football games: “My team is for this and your team is for that and I’m never for anything your team is for because we’re locked in mortal combat. Go team go!”

For a change of pace, try forgetting completely what you don’t like about something or someone, and detach from ‘who’s for this’ and ‘who’s for that,’ and focus on the things you would like to see in the world. You may find that you have much more in common with those you oppose than you think.

When ‘show me your birth certificate’ is replaced with ‘show me your vision, and by the way, here’s mine,’ we’ll be well on the way to realizing a more perfect union.


Sharon said...

Good points, but if I were in charge of TV programming I would emphasize programs that teach actual history so that we can learn how we got to where we are now and don't continue to repeat past mistakes; also discussion groups that analyze thoughtfully. Education is the key toward ensuring we don't become victims of propagandists, and also in helping us form that vision for the country's future.

James Polk said...

Thank you, Sharon. Thoughtful discussion is exactly what I want to see. It seems to me that what passes as the norm - throwing inflammatory remarks out there designed to stoke fear and anger - while effective, is vulgar. Can't we rise above that? I think so.