I Voted. Now What?

Despite attempting to swear off political posts for the month, I’m still unhooking from political news and chatter. It’s hard to avoid and today is election day. I’ve just returned from voting. Unfortunately, numerous contests will be litigated for weeks or months on end. The upside of this is that I will not stay up for results, nor check my phone every two minutes throughout the night. I will sleep. Politics do not own me (and I will keep repeating that mantra until I get my sleep, dammit).

39027381I’m still reading Donna Cameron’s book A Year of Living Kindly. Normally, I’m a fast reader, but some books require breaks – time to absorb meaning and think about how it applies to one’s own life. It’s a gentle read for caustic times. In a world full of shouting and knee-jerk reactions, I’m determined to take myself down a different path. Which is why much of my reading lately has focused on ethics and integrity. This morning, though, I read Chapter 30: Choosing to be For or Against. I put the book aside, leaned back in my chair and closed my eyes.

I learned long ago that living in resistance to something is still a negative choice. If I wanted to break out of particular family cycles, I’d never truly be free if I only focused on who I didn’t want to be. I had to know who I wanted to be. I had to know the kind of family life I wanted, what kind of person I wanted to share my life with, what kind of parent I wanted to be. Sometimes those things did not seem clear to me until after making many, many mistakes, but when I realized what my values were, I began to make decisions on their behalf. This is a much harder path to follow than simply not being the other.

Winning or losing, picking a side, this is the least interesting dynamic of any human interaction. But it is the easiest way to sort and categorize people. It’s the easiest way to reduce complex, nuanced thought to a grunt. It’s the easiest way to give up your humanity, your individuality, your sense of right and wrong and to take away that of others.

canstockphoto25182408There is life beyond the power-grab-swap-meets every few years. All politics aside, we still have to look ourselves in the mirror and ask “Am I a decent human being?” After tuning into social media and seeing the mindless droning of insults and labels, I realized very quickly that I need to check myself, away from the din of politics. I know that I have a moral center and personal integrity, but it’s become so fuzzy of late. What do I stand for? What am I willing to fight for, believe in, support? Notably this is not a “who” question, because principles and values are not fungible depending on who is in charge.

The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be either good or evil.

Hannah Arendt

Being for something means that my values are not dependent on what the other side is doing. Being for something means that I have a course set before me that is positive. The point of propaganda is that most phrases have very little specific meaning. They’re reductive and easily come to represent the worst of any group. It’s too easy to absolve ourselves of personal responsibility. This is why group dynamics freak me out – when people become essentially nothing more than a bumper sticker, engaging in polemics they wouldn’t repeat on their own.

Perhaps it seems the height of luxury (and of privilege) to insist on one’s own trajectory, to put aside all politics for the moment and say Who do I want to be? Who am I capable of being? Am I being that person now? Much of politics is illusory and is a poor basis for defining one’s humanity. Part of the game is to keep us at each other’s throats, so that we don’t mind our pockets getting picked and lives being diminished. Those in the arena just want to fill the seats – they don’t care how.

The best index to a person’s character is how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and how he treats people who can’t fight back.

Abigail Van Buren

Today is a good time to step back. Do your civic duty and vote – then let it all go for a moment. Think about what is important to you as an individual. Get off social media, shake off the sloganeering of whomever you’ve aligned yourself with this political season. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you being a good parent, spouse, neighbor, friend? Are you kind and generous of spirit?

Whatever the results are tomorrow, none of us are winning if we serve as mouthpieces for scripted politics. What we represent first and foremost is ourselves. Who is that going to be?

27 Comments on “I Voted. Now What?

  1. Splendid! This intelligent and gentle reflection reminds us of where we unquestionably have agency and, indeed, responsibility: the living of our own lives. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I love that expression “have agency” – it sounds powerful. Fear politics makes us feel powerless and then we forget where our power lies. The serenity prayer always sticks in my mind, but with the added step beyond knowledge – fully exercising the control we have.

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  2. Thanks, Michelle, I will share this post on Facebook today! You voice of reason and agency in the face of all forces trying to mute them holds me up. It looks like you have found some peace for yourself through all of these trying times, which I’m happy to see (imagine). Wishing you a day of centered strength and focused engagement, and a very good night’s sleep. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Cathy – that’s kind of you. I find that peace, like reason, has to be constantly negotiated during these times. I try to think about it as practice. The world may ostensibly get worse, so the more we practice realigning with our values, the stronger we’ll be when things go to hell. Wishing you a happy voting day!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes!! Like all skills, we lose these practices without regular—practice! 😆 Brené Brown talks about it in _Dare to Lead_ using billiards experts as an example. They practice drills like inserting the tip of the stick in and out of sideways beer bottles to develop muscle memory for steadiness, etc. When we practice on the small stuff and make the skills into automatic habits, then we can perform them even more confidently when the stakes are higher.
        Onward!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. “I learned long ago that living in resistance to something is still a negative choice.” Agreed, hard. Be for something, more so than against something. Live that way. Fighting is not a virtue.

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    • Of course, I was playing around semantically in my head and a person could logically be FOR cannabilism and pedophilia, so it doesn’t automatically make it a positive. I probably could have added the caveat: be for something that doesn’t hurt other people. I should never re-read my own writing at a certain point.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I am absolutely still going to continue working on voting rights, campaign finance reform, etc. I just need a break to rally up for another two year stint. Two seconds after the midterms, it’s presidential campaign season – hopefully for other candidates besides the current president, but still, there’s another long slog ahead. I just need a breather from the last round.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I think that is wonderful news!!! Campaign Reform would be one of my top items to support. It is one reason I supported Bernie Sanders last election cycle. I wish we would look to the Dutch in how they handle money and elections. Much more civilized!!!!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for the wise reflections, Michelle, and for the kind words about YOLK. I have been on the road all day—deliberately avoiding all news and media, and listening, instead, to Trevor Noah’s audiobook and ‘60s rock-and-roll. The time is approaching when I will have to tune in to some election results, but right now, I’ll keep Schrödinger’s cat in the box a bit longer.

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    • Thanks, Donna and thanks again for putting out such a great book – it’s a balm and reminder. The elections turned out pretty much as expected. I’m pretty psyched about Minnesota getting rid of a couple of toxic reps, bringing in people who haven’t had a seat at the table (a Native American Lt. Governor, and in my district, the first Somali-American – and a woman). Minnesota still retains its independent vibe in the north Midwest.

      What sticks out to me most, though, is how important the underpinnings to our democracy are to the outcome. All the botched voting sites, machines, and suppressive techniques that emerged yesterday have totally stoked me for the challenge over the next couple of years.

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  5. In this context, I often think about my parents, who were lifelong activists, and about how they managed to sustain the level of commitment that takes. It involves, surely, finding love and joy amidst all the things you’re against. And it involves pacing yourself.

    I like the questions you’re raising.

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    • Most of the questions I raise are pointedly directed at myself. Some days I feel like a geyser of rage just waiting to erupt. All this refocusing and repeatedly calling on my better nature is exhausting. A little detachment and some joy in other areas of my life are much required.

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  6. Thank you Michele. That is very true–we have to look at ourselves and judge who we are and what we believe in, and move forward. I think that I often stall in the gate as I wrack my brain trying to understand why someone believes the way they do. In the end, what they believe has nothing to do with me, so why waste all that energy? Your post clarified some things for me–as they often do. I appreciate your thoughts and your impeccable ability to enunciate them for us.

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    • Thanks Ilona. I believe that change, on a micro or macro level, has to start with our internal compass. I think about the great leaders who led movements, but damaged their children and spouses through abandonment or disloyalty or literal abuse. Or the people who pursue lauded careers but are incapable of intimacy or kindness – people in power without empathy or imagination. All of this signals a lack of moral fiber, an inability to do the internal work that develops character, to be introspective, and to understand that the external trappings have limitations.

      I don’t want to be that person. I don’t want to be so caught up in causes and politics that I don’t do the necessary work to be a decent human being, that I cede my individual powers to groups and ideas, or spend all my time trying to counter the flawed and dangerous thinking of others. This, of course, is not silence in the face of injustice, but silence right now, is not the problem. A lot of people are talking. Not so much on the listening and learning.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This is the type of blogs I like to comment and follow. Because in my Country we vote every four years and most of the politicians disappear with our votes and their promises, only to come back at the next four years with some bags of monies to bribe their way in again. You can see with this African system there is no agenda from the Politicians only, but to loot.

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    • Our system may appear different than yours, but underneath the surface, power and money operates in much the same way. This is why we have to struggle for voting rights, for campaign transparency, and campaign finance reform. Our system right now is a distortion of power and money finding loopholes to unfairly tilt the whole system in their direction. We are being looted right now.

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  8. I love this so much. It captures much of where I am right now, within myself. I’ve taken a few steps back from everything – even important things – to focus on restoring order to the small things – our home, mainly, but also planning the garden for next year, creating a budget we can respect … and somehow that repair work, so necessary, has become a core around which I’m building spiritual renewal, reevaluating what’s important, rediscovering who I am. There has been so much busyness in the past few years. I’ve wanted to run away – and only barely had the wisdom to keep telling myself, “There’s no point in running FROM. You have to run TO. Where do you want to be?” I’m finally ready to slow down and think about that, and for now it appears that I actually want to be right where I am. Who knew!

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    • Doing concrete things is a really useful, grounding method that keeps me from drowning in the existential and real troubles of the world. I like the idea of a core of spiritual renewal being centered on home. I’m going through my unraveling phase – a necessary feeling of being a bit lost. Too much social interaction and too little solitude. Things are settling down and I’ve been able to do a lot more reading and a lot less “engaging” (I’ve come to hate that word). But standing still is a great way to get one’s bearings instead of running about scattershot. Wishing you the best.

      Like

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