December 3, 2016 · Write a comment · Categories: Musings · Tags:

Here’s a thought-experiment to consider: Imagine a third party in the American political system bringing about civility and respectful dialogue, without electing even a single candidate to office.

Let’s call it the Civility Party. It would never do any negative campaigning. Indeed, it wouldn’t even have a platform, nor would it campaign at all. It would have only one role—as a spoiler. When a major-party candidate got too nasty, the moderate and independent voters who otherwise would have supported him or her could, instead, cast a protest vote for the Civility Party’s candidate.

So what, you’re probably thinking. There are plenty of third parties now, but it doesn’t matter. The nastiness just keeps getting worse, and everybody knows protest votes are useless.

True enough—but let’s take a closer look at just why that is. Most voters who are offended by nasty campaigning do not cast protest votes. Instead, they “hold their noses” and vote for the major-party candidate they dislike least. Because negative campaigning is so widespread, both candidates probably are doing it, so a lot of people reluctantly vote for whichever candidate they would have chosen anyway. As a result, there is no downside to negative campaigning. Politicians sling the mud without restraint, hoping more of it sticks to their opponent.
 

Mud wrestling in an outdoor pit.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

Even if some voters are disgusted enough to choose third parties, they are not making a clear statement in favor of civility because nobody knows why they voted as they did. If a third party gets more votes than usual in a particular year, that might have nothing to do with the behavior of the major-party candidates. Maybe it’s because voters are more interested in the third party’s issues or see the third party’s candidate as having better qualifications.

The Civility Party would change things by accurately tracking the number of votes lost because of campaign nastiness. In close elections with a lot of mudslinging, that number could end up being more than the margin of victory. Such results would demonstrate to both politicians and voters that it really is possible to punish uncivil candidates with enough protest votes to cost them the election. If enough voters got in the habit of doing it, there would be an effective structural deterrent to negative campaigning.

Of course, in states or districts where one major party or the other regularly wins by a large margin, Civility Party votes would have no impact (except in a state like California that has open primaries). But realistically, the campaign budgets for such areas are small anyway. The vast majority of general-election campaigning takes place in competitive states and districts where victory comes down to persuading a small number of moderate and independent voters to choose one side or the other. And that’s where the Civility Party could play the spoiler effectively.

It probably will never happen though, because by the time we reached the point where enough voters cared strongly about civility to make a difference in the outcome of elections, our culture likely would have changed enough for the better that a Civility Party wouldn’t be needed.

Dealing with problems doesn’t necessarily mean working on them right away. Often it’s more effective to slow down and consider the alternatives. But because the modern world is so busy and competitive, not solving a problem quickly can get uncomfortable—it brings up all sorts of old anxieties about wasting time, not knowing what to do, and being a failure. So, instead of calmly looking at the situation and realizing that there are many possibilities, people are likely to overlook all but the most obvious solutions and to pick one without giving it much thought.
 

Word-art with a light bulb that says "When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this: You haven't." -Thomas Edison 

Taking time to consider possible solutions, rather than doing whatever comes to mind first, is not really wasteful. It leads to a calmer and more productive mindset in dealing with problems generally, and it’s likely to have much better results than hurrying to do something right now.

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

No, I didn’t really go on a cruise, but when we get into these dark wintery days it’s fun to think about traveling somewhere sunny. So, yesterday afternoon I put an ocean view on the digital art display in my dining room. The caption for the photo said it was taken in Croatia. I’ve never been to Croatia, but I figured it was as good a place as any for an imaginary cruise.
 

Seashore photo taken in Croatia as shown on a digital art display. 

Although this wasn’t a video, with the lights turned off in the room, I could almost imagine the seagull gliding higher on an updraft and hear the sound of the waves when I walked by. Just a little bit of diversion to make my day brighter and more cheerful. Hope you enjoyed it too!

With so much changing all around us in the busy modern world, on Thanksgiving we feel glad for the things that stay constant—family, friends, and the small comforts of home. There is much to appreciate in the random things, as well. Instead of trying to plan everything in detail and then getting stressed when it doesn’t all work out, sometimes we do better just to go with the flow and discover what comes along.

Two years ago, I wanted to buy an angel for the top of my family’s Christmas tree. We had been putting different ornaments at the top each year—a star, a dove, a sun—but we never had an old-fashioned angel. I looked at several stores, getting frustrated when I couldn’t find what I had in mind. When I browsed online, I gave up after wading through many pages of angel ornaments that just didn’t look right.

I brought some old stuff from my basement to donate at a nearby thrift store on Tuesday. I wasn’t thinking about angels at all when, after a quick glance at a shelf of holiday decorations, I noticed this regal figure looking back at me as if bestowing blessings:
 

Christmas tree angel with gold wings, wearing a fancy old-fashioned dress. 

She’ll make a lovely addition to the Christmas tree when we set it up this weekend! And in the spirit of the season, another random thing I came across last week is a blog with a random acts of kindness generator that suggests good deeds for the day. The more kindness there is to go around, the merrier!

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

November 21, 2016 · 6 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags: ,

Several times in the past month I had dreams that seemed like they were telling me to be more responsible. What that might have meant was not at all clear, though. As far as I was aware, I hadn’t been neglecting anyone or anything recently. I had no workplace problems, my kids had gotten through college and found jobs, my husband and I were spending more time together, both of us were doing volunteer work, and the clutter in the house was reasonably well cleaned up.

Surely I didn’t need to take on more obligations right now. What I needed, if anything, was the opposite—to slow down, relax, and clear away old stress. Taking time for self-nurturing as part of a healthy life is not selfish or irresponsible. And in that regard, I didn’t feel that I had been neglecting myself recently, either. I’d been getting regular exercise, eating better food, and finding simple ways to make my everyday life more peaceful and refreshing.

With no clue as to what I might be missing, I decided to look for an answer in my dreams. Just before I went to sleep, I asked myself: How should I be more responsible?

Early in the morning, when I wasn’t quite awake, I heard a voice speaking to me. It sounded like an angel’s voice, as I imagined an angel would sound—peaceful, kind, and otherworldly, neither male nor female. The angel said, “Caring and prayer.” Then I woke up.
 

Statue of angel with hands clasped.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

That was a much-needed perspective adjustment! In today’s busy task-driven society, people often think of responsibility in terms of checking items off the to-do list. If we generally do what’s expected of us, then we can pat ourselves on the back for being good responsible citizens.

But at its root, responsibility isn’t about checking off boxes—rather, it’s a compound word that puts together “response” and “ability.” It means that when a situation comes up that needs our attention, we’re able to respond appropriately. That has a lot more to do with a caring, thankful mindset than with rushing around to get the to-dos finished. It’s about appreciating the small moments of grace in our everyday lives that gently, but persistently, invite us to rise to the occasion.

Sometimes we just need to take a breath and set aside everything else for the moment, not only in our individual lives, but also as a community.
 

Word-art that says "inhale peace, exhale joy" inside a heart. 

These small moments, although they may not seem like much at the time, can open up the space we need for the larger changes to take hold.

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

Now that the weather has turned cooler and the rowing season is over, I’ve gone back to running outdoors, which is my usual exercise over the winter (unless it gets so cold that I run on the indoor track at the Rec Center instead). When I went to the park to run five miles with my husband on Sunday, the thought of having to wait till spring to get back out on the river felt kind of sad, with the long cold winter ahead. But then it occurred to me that instead of feeling gloomy and looking at my winter workouts in the same light as doing chores, I should appreciate the opportunity for quiet reflection.

While running along the park trail, I found myself thinking about pilgrimages such as the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain, which has been traveled since the Middle Ages. Even today, many people walk the Camino to put their worldly concerns in perspective and to gain spiritual growth. There are various starting points; one of the popular routes, beginning at the French border, is about 800 kilometers. ¡Buen camino! is the customary greeting for peregrinos (pilgrims), wishing them a good journey.
 

Signpost in Spain that says "Peregrino, buen camino."

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

So I decided that when I run in the park this winter, I’m going to imagine myself making progress in short segments along my own personal Camino and leaving my complaints and ungrateful attitudes behind. I know that many of us are working to improve ourselves in similar ways, as well as to promote a spirit of kindness and grateful reflection in the community; so today I’m wishing all of my fellow pilgrims, as we travel along this road, ¡Buen camino!

I gave this post a tag I haven’t used before: Politics. Although this blog is almost five years old and some of the posts have touched on political matters, I never used Politics as a tag before now. That was by design. When I created this site, I envisioned it as a place to reflect on the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of life in the modern world. Rather than writing about particular controversies in the political arena, I wanted to take a broader view of the underlying cultural issues.

I didn’t give much thought to the arena itself—a word that now strikes me as quite apropos in light of recent events that brought to mind the Circus Maximus, complete with gladiators, lions, condemned Christians, and a gleeful crowd of bloodthirsty spectators. Although the dysfunctional American two-party system obviously has been far from ideal for many years, I assumed it was a short-term problem that would improve as people became more comfortable in a changing world. It’s now clear just how far off the mark that complacent assumption turned out to be.
 

circus-maximus

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

How did we find ourselves in this dystopian alternate reality where discussing candidates’ qualifications and voting in national elections, which used to be seen as a shared moral obligation to exercise civic responsibilities prudently for the good of the community, now amount to fighting on a bloody battlefield in a cultural civil war where nothing matters but winning at all costs?

A large part of it, I would say, is in the words we use—war, battlefield, fighting. Reading them just now, you probably didn’t think twice about it because we’ve all gotten so used to seeing political differences of opinion framed in such terms. Journalists do it all the time. Advocacy organizations routinely send out appeals for help with the fight against this, the war on that, and the battle for whatever. War metaphors have reached saturation level in our society. Most of the time we don’t even consciously notice them anymore; but in the murky depths below the surface of our awareness, they’re wreaking havoc on our collective psyche.

It’s not that we literally see as enemies the family down the street who put up a yard sign supporting the other party’s candidate. Most of us are civil enough in real life that we’re still going to smile and wave when we pass by their house and see them in the yard, even if we later grumble to ourselves that they should have known better than to fall for the other party’s propaganda. But when we turn on the talk shows, get into conversations about politics online, or go to rallies where our candidate whips up the crowd into a frenzy, the usual rules of civil society fall by the wayside. The insults fly fast and furious, until it starts to feel like that’s the normal way of things.

When we look at the political divide as a war, rather than as a mutual lack of understanding and a failure to communicate, we close our minds to any prospect of finding solutions through respectful dialogue and cooperation. Destroying the other party seems like the only way to get anything done. Primary voters don’t look for moderate candidates who would try to work productively with the other party because that seems downright impossible. After a while, extremists sound like they’re only being realistic.

To change things for the better, we’re going to have to take responsibility as individuals to make decisions based on our shared cultural values, including civility and respect. A good place to start would be to pay more attention to our word choices and replace those war metaphors with calmer and more constructive language. Social issues and political disagreements don’t always have to be fights and battlefields. We need to find a better way, for everyone’s sake, because ultimately we are all on the same side.

Although my husband and I are not Catholic, we sent our kids to Catholic schools because of the good values and habits taught there. One point of emphasis was demonstrating that actions have natural consequences. Our son found that out in the spring of his sixth-grade year when he got bored with the math homework, which he already knew, and calculated that he could just skip doing it for the rest of the term and still be passed on to seventh grade.

When the principal found out about that, she made him spend the first week of summer vacation coming into the office every morning and sitting in a chair next to her desk while he worked through all that homework, which she inspected every day to make sure it was complete. The lesson he took away from that experience was well worth all the tuition in itself.

The rule of natural consequences also holds true in the realm of politics. Without getting into the merits of anyone’s views or goals as to particular issues in American politics, I’ll simply say that this might be a time when we collectively need to learn a few lessons the hard way regarding the calculations and shortcuts taken to accomplish those goals.
 

Word-art inside an up arrow, defining "optimist" as "someone who figures that taking a step backward after taking a step forward is not a disaster. It's a cha-cha." -Robert Brault 

I am hopeful that after a few years of dealing with the natural consequences of a fractured political landscape sadly lacking in values, we’ll ultimately come out of all this as a better people.

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

On Tuesday afternoon when I went to vote, it was dark, windy, and chilly here in Ohio; the past week’s unseasonably warm weather had turned to more typical November conditions. Although I try to cultivate the habit of finding something to appreciate in each day, rather than using words such as “dreary” and “gloomy,” I was finding it hard to take a more cheerful perspective—especially after I got home and noticed this:
 

Aluminum fence bent at top by a leaping deer. 

Apparently this damage to my backyard fence was caused by a deer jumping over it. There is a small patch of woods along the edge of the subdivision, and we sometimes see deer walking across the front lawn, but usually they just amble along without causing any problems besides munching on an occasional shrub. I certainly wouldn’t have expected a deer to leap a six-foot aluminum fence! It must have been reacting in a panic to something—a coyote, perhaps, or a large dog.

Finding itself in an enclosed backyard, which surely must have left it feeling trapped and even more panicky, the deer then escaped by bursting through the fence at the back corner.
 

Aluminum fence broken by a deer. 

It probably will be a while before a contractor can get us on the schedule to replace those damaged sections, and in the meanwhile my husband zip-tied some pieces of wood across the gap to discourage any more deer from getting into the backyard.

I suppose I’ll never know what made that deer so frightened. Maybe when a subdivision was built in the middle of their natural habitat, leaving only a little strip of woods, the whole herd got more anxious than they were before. Even if they didn’t clearly understand what was changing as the houses went up one after another, they might have had a vague sense that something didn’t match the way they remembered it.

That’s probably the best explanation I can come up with for the current state of our politics, too. The world has been changing so fast that our mental maps can’t keep up with all the newly created landmarks that diverge from our expectations, and sometimes we just get spooked.

A contractor is going to come out tomorrow and estimate the work. Unfortunately, it won’t be as easy to quantify and repair the damage done to civil society by the scorched-earth politics of recent years, which has cost a lot more than money. One of the saddest things about it is that the younger generation won’t even remember that there was a time when politicians were expected to behave decently and work together to serve the community. We need to set the bar much higher—not only for the behavior of those who want to hold public office, but also for our personal responsibility to set a better, more respectful example.