Friday, February 03, 2006

Political Perspective

I once had an assignment to write my Personal Political Narrative. Every once in awhile I like to re-read it to remind myself who I am. Cuz sometimes I forget.

The Road Less Traveled

Sometimes I can be a little slow on the uptake. I don’t always catch the brass ring on the first go-around. I’ve wasted much of my time pondering what to put in my personal political narrative but I missed the major on-ramp to this assignment. I wrote and rewrote a lot about how I grew up, and how I responded to the civil rights movement, and a lot of other rhetoric (read crap). Finally, with a little help from my friends, I realized I was on the right highway but going in the wrong direction. I have a habit of doing that. I lived on Cape Cod for awhile and for several months after I moved there I would instinctively head east on Rte. 6 when I wanted to go to Boston. No matter that for my entire life, wherever I lived, I had to head east to get to Boston. I just couldn’t get it into my mind that now, living east of the city, I had to head west to get there. It took a while but I finally realized sometimes you have to change directions to get where you’re going.

I realized personal politics is about more than who you voted for in the last election, it’s not just about racism or social injustice, or how we should be governed. Personal politics is about who we are and what we believe, and maybe a little bit about why we believe it. Okay, so it took me awhile to figure out the destination, but now I’m ready for the journey. (Does AAA make a Triptik for this?)

Anyway, here is what I believe.

I believe children learn what they live and I am grateful for the brief time I had to live with my mother. She was the foundation for my beliefs and my compassion and my need to make things right. She died while I was in high school. When she lost her battle with Leukemia I lost my protector, my confidante, the only person in the world who understood me. It’s only been recently that I realized how much like her I am. I often wonder what it would be like to have known her as an adult. Would it be different than I’ve imagined? How would I be different?

Since children do learn what they live, they deserve special protection and special considerations. George Benson was right: “I believe that children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.” A man I know began a program in Los Angeles to help inner-city kids and coined the phrase “All Kids are a Lifetime Investment”. We need to take this literally, even if it means increased taxes; and music and arts education should be given the same consideration as math and science and way more than football. And man, do I like football.

In the grander scheme of my political world, I believe that all men are not created equal. And hallelujah for it. What a boring world this would be if we were all equal in every way. There would be no competition, no striving to improve oneself or one’s station in life. We should, however, all have equal opportunities to make of our lives what we will. Our inequalities should be based on our individual capacities for learning, for doing, and for loving. Differences in heritage, culture, or religious beliefs should be celebrated but should not be considered or treated as inequalities.

The recent terrorist attacks and America’s immediate military response make it clear that we have not yet learned that lesson. We have not yet learned to live together peacefully, or to treat each other, in our own country or abroad, with respect. We want everybody to get along but we want them to do it our way, without consideration for cultural or religious differences. How many more people must die before we get it? The best lesson we can take from the September 11th experience is that it is the grand wake-up call. Americans are not the only people on this Earth that matter. Perhaps we have let our pride and our greed eclipse that which is good and right in America. We may not want to admit it but we do bear some responsibility for how others see and react to us. Maybe, someday, we can find healthy balances between capitalism and socialism, big brother foreign policy and laissez-faire. Then maybe we won’t be seen as the bad guys anymore.

The people directly responsible for planning and sponsoring terrorist attacks should be punished, and I am a firm believer that the punishment should fit the crime. I maintain that there are some crimes that are so heinous, so inhuman, that the death penalty is justified. Unfortunately our judicial system is so flawed that, while I support the theory of capital punishment, our implementation of it is too discriminatory and leaves too much room for human nature to affect its application. It just plain doesn’t work right. Neither does mandatory sentencing. Or incarceration without rehabilitation. We gotta put some justice back in the justice system.

I also believe some religious fanatics can be the most unchristian of us all. Too many people are “Christianlike” only when it suits their purposes. Going to church every week does not a Christian make. And maybe we should think up another word for Christian, anyway. Roget doesn’t have one but maybe it’s time we accepted that not all good people are Christians in the strictest sense. Jews can be good people. Muslims can be good people. Hell, even agnostics and atheists can be good people. Everybody is born with the capacity to be “good people.” Some just don’t develop it as fully as others. Some of us are destined to be Ghandis, some of us are destined to be John Rockers, and some even feel destined to be terrorists. That’s life and we just have to deal with it.

Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover, but judging people is a whole different story. People should take Mr. Rogers more seriously. Being nice should be cool. Being a gangsta wannabe should be bad. Meaning bad bad, not good bad. That said, even though getting angry doesn’t solve a hell of a lot, sometimes it just feels good to throw something.
I now realize I have the right to believe whatever I want as long as I am a good person and a good citizen. Socrates was right when he said only older people can achieve wisdom. With age comes experience, and with experience comes knowledge. Knowledge begets wisdom. I’m old enough to know and young enough to keep learning.