[On the left: South Africans Voting (credit: The South African). On the right: Americans Playing The Lottery (credit: The Japan Times)]
It’s election time again. Here’s what annoys me about this crop of politicians. They either don’t have experience or they don’t have experience. You read right.
Consider this bumper sticker. “My old man shouts, ‘You should listen to my fifty years of experience!” But he had one year of experience repeated fifty times.’
That sums up the risk we take in assuming that experience automatically improves with age. And then there are the young guns who sound proud of being new to the game. I ask you!
Let me remind both groups that experience is the practical first-hand acquaintance with facts or events. Understanding comes from direct experience of different events.
Defined this way, gaining experience is quite simple, really, which is why I look for wisdom. Wisdom is the ultimate outcome of practical understandings accumulated as you age… if you are lucky enough to survive your own direct experiences.
Oh no, sensible them is now us
My own direct experiences have made me nervous of political promises and visions of futures without painful pathways. I am by nature suspicious of loose talk without binding responsibility. It’s a hangover from my school days.
I remember sitting on a hard school bench when a little voice would whisper something and the teacher would growl, “Who said that?” For 12 long years I waited for some kid to say, “An informed source, Sir.” But it never happened.
As a grown-up I read every day what ‘informed sources’ have to say and I’m expected to believe in their existence.
Years ago a teacher could get away with stating a proof as ‘because I say so’. Thanks to the Internet and other media magic, we have ways and means of debunking say-so proofs and informed sources. And yet, we don’t bother.
Back then kids had more sense. We should give them the vote. Oh, right, Them is now us.
Listen to the idea and ignore the person
As you struggle through this era of endless political waffle littered with informed sources and fake ‘fake news’ (or not), what should you do now that you admit that Them is now us? Play this game to help you focus on what matters. For one week, listen to the message, not the messenger. Focus on what is said; don’t focus on who is saying it.
Too many good ideas go unheard, often because we focus on the person with the idea instead of on the idea itself. And if we don’t like the person or think the person a weirdo or whatever, we tend to transfer these feelings onto the idea. Because we have discounted the person, we discount the idea. It’s known as arguing against the person.
That’s right. Politicians and their hangers-on do a lot of this during election time. But why should you?
It is possible for a weirdo to have a useful idea now and then. So, please, for one week, listen to the idea and ignore the person.
When in doubt, vote for kind people
Yet, there are times when you should not ignore the person behind the idea. Election seasons in the USA always trigger a quotation which loops in my head like a pop song until the moment my vote is cast. It is this quote by the philosopher Abraham Heschel: “When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.”
Of course, for this day and age, and for this country, the quote plays differently. We no longer admire clever people. We celebrate successful people.
And that’s where a problem creeps in. Clever people are smart enough to know that they will be old one day. They might even be wise enough to be kind today in case they need the favor returned sooner rather than later.
But today successful people are valued in material terms. They are admired no matter how they hunted and gathered their wealth. As we have seen and experienced, too often basic human kindness is not part of that success formula.
And so I vote for kind people. If I can find them.
Why do we bother to vote?
Ignore kind politicians (if you have found any) for a moment and answer this. Why do we still believe many of our problems will get better (or worse) after the elections? (Depending, of course, on whether the better or worse guy or gal wins.) Surely by now we have enough experience with these election cycles to know that the outcome of elections, especially of the two-party kind, is like being enlightened.
I’ll let Sheldon Kopp explain: “Before he is enlightened, a man gets up each morning to spend the day tending his fields, returns home to eat his supper, goes to bed, makes love to his woman, and falls asleep. But once he has attained enlightenment, then a man gets up each morning to spend the day tending his fields, returns home to eat his supper, goes to bed, makes love to his woman, and falls asleep.” (from: If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!)
So why the fuss every election cycle when we already know that little will change in our back yard? I’ll tell you why. Because we need someone to blame when our plans don’t work out.
Where dumb leaders originate
While we’re on the subject of blame…. A colleague once reminded me that a business is not a democracy. He did not want me to listen to too many opinions before making an executive decision. Maybe so, but when you work with smart adults, autocratic orders lead to empty offices. Smart employees are mobile.
On the other hand, citizens are not as mobile as workers. Whether or not you participate, whether or not you vote, you cannot easily escape the consequences of the democratic process.
At work it is easy to believe your opinion won’t count even if it is heard. In a country of many millions, it is even easier to believe your one vote won’t matter, even if it is counted.
But if you are simply too lazy to vote, heed what Plato said: “Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.”
Oh yes, the same applies at work.
You might lose it if you are too spoiled to vote
Yes, voting is work, not play. But do you really think it too much trouble to get up, get dressed, get fed, get mobile, get vetted and get voted?
Thanks to the Internet, you can download music without getting dressed, watch movies naked in bed, chat virtually with so-called friends, and have shopping delivered to your door. So why on earth would you go to all that trouble just to draw a few crosses on a piece of paper with a stubby pencil?
Maybe a few million Black South Africans can convince you why you should bother. They know what it feels like not having a say in running the country they were born in. They will tell you why they stood for hours in lines that stretched for miles under the hot African sun to draw those little ‘x’s.
Maybe if you lost your vote, then you will take it seriously. In that sense, voting is like the Internet. You need it most when you don’t have it.
Patient people in long lines to “pick me!”
Let me tell you why you should worry about losing your vote. Because the signs are there that voting is on the way out.
In April 1994 South Africa held its first full democratic elections. There were many sights of joy and celebrations when the once-disenfranchised people finally voted. Amazing aerial photos showed long lines of people waiting patiently for their turn to vote.
Years later I saw similar pictures in the USA of people standing in long lines. I assumed these were patient voters, but I was wrong. I was witnessing another culture difference between my birth country and my adopted country. This being America, those people were lining up to buy lottery tickets. (Since then I have become used to seeing photos of people standing in line to buy the latest smart phone or to be the first through retail doors on Thanksgiving/Black Friday.)
It was a silly assumption I made when looking at those photos. I should have remembered the first time I voted in America after becoming a citizen. There was no line of patient people or any other kind. And the officials far outnumbered the few voters committed to vote.
In South Africa, people willing stand in line for hours to pick their leaders. In the USA, people happily stand in line for hours thinking, “Pick me! Pick me!”