One of my students asked me, last week, why the sequester is called a sequester. I asked them what they thought.
There was much muttering and confusion.
“Is it because Congress is locked up together until they can finally get along?” someone finally asked.
But it got me thinking. I’ve started occasionally doing this thing in some of my classes called “Roll Call”, in which I ask each student to answer the same question. It gets them thinking and looking into each other’s eyes and hearts and really examining their own opinions in light of their peers’ often very different opinions. It takes a bit longer than traditional attendance taking. In fact, there are days when it takes a significant portion of the class period. Sometimes they don’t want to leave.
Today I asked each of my students what it means, specifically to them, to be an American. I’ve been thinking about this myself–mostly because I’m getting tired of the whole us-versus-them mentality of American politics in which “us” is defined as me and my two drinking buddies, or maybe even me and my yes-men, and “them” is defined as everyone else “us” don’t 100% agree with.
America is facing some significant problems. I get that. There is ample evidence of corruption, ignorance, and apathy all around us.
I also understand the need to stand up for correct principles. What I don’t understand is why so many people seem incapable of addressing issues, policy, and ideas instead of attacking individuals.
Okay, fine. You don’t agree with everything that comes out of the President’s, or the Governor’s, or the county commissioner’s mouth. Maybe you even think that particular politician is despicable for one reason or another.
But do you really think that Barack Obama, or anyone else, can–all by themselves–ruin or save this country?
Because if we’re already at the point where one man holds that much power, then we are no longer America–so either stop with the histrionics, or do something:
- If we’re past that point–where the conspiracy theorists are on the right track: all is hopelessly lost, the Anti-Christ himself is in the White House, etc–then what in the name of all that’s sacred are you doing just posting snide memes and cynical commentary about it? Go storm the gates, now, before it’s too late.
- If, on the other hand, we are not past that point–if you believe that we are simply headed down a dangerous route with foolish leaders at the helm, but that you still have the basic freedoms which permit you to post those memes without risk of dire retribution–then wouldn’t it be in the best interest of “us” to interact civilly with “them” as we try to right our course?
Tell me this: Have you ever, ever, ever, ever, ever successfully won someone to your point of view by insulting them personally, demeaning their ideas or pointing out their faults?
In addition, when you talk about “the government”, to whom do you refer? Aren’t we-the-people supposed to be running more than just our mouths about things?
I also encounter people who are so disillusioned with the political realm that they no longer vote, no longer read the news, no longer do anything but hunker down and hope things get better, somehow. I understand that. The same problems that bother them, bother me; and, honestly, I don’t know what to do about any of them either.
I do know this: we are all human. We are all flawed. We are all a little bit nuts in our own way, possibly.
But we all want what’s best for our children, our communities, and our nation. We are all, in the end, Americans. I am not an economist; I am not a political science expert; I do not understand foreign policy.
But I do understand human nature. And what I see happening in the political arena and on the airwaves and around the water cooler, so to speak, reflects a deep misunderstanding about that very human nature we all share. We are at risk of no longer functioning as a community–a cooperative group with a common goal–when we cannot see past “us” and “them” to the “we”.
So here’s what I wish the sequester meant: I wish it meant we could sit the members of Congress down in a room and just have them look one another in the eye and discuss real issues, stripped of positioning and party and pride. Wouldn’t it be great if a meeting of Congress went overtime because the members of it were so engaged in understanding one another they were reluctant to part? Wouldn’t it be great if they were to all go home at the bell saying, “Can we talk about this again, tomorrow?”
I understand that Congress is funded by your tax dollars, and that you want less talking and more doing–but so is the classroom. And I’ve yet to see anything worthwhile come out of a school room until every student feels safe within it. It’s basic brain science that we cannot truly function as problem solvers, at the highest levels–where the real, difficult problems must be solved–until we feel secure as human beings. It isn’t possible. Until then, we just keep throwing temporary, desperate fixes at problems of exponentially increasing complexity.
Speaking of complex political problems: I’d offer my classroom for such a discussion but we’re already ridiculously over capacity. Thirty-six desks in a room I’m pretty sure was built as some kind of closet (seriously–isn’t it against some kind of code that there are no windows, and only one door?) is already a little close for comfort; I don’t think Congress would fit. I guess the next best thing is to hope that some of these students grow up and run for Congress themselves. I’ll be first in line to vote for them–I think they’ve got some solutions you’d like to hear about.