[PUBLISHED IN THE KANSAS CITY STAR, October 13, 2008]
Man, do I love older people.
For well over a decade now, I’ve been immersed in a senior-citizen-filled world as I finish a book I’m writing, focusing on their life experiences. Hearing these people talk about one subject, in particular, - the Great Depression – has affected me in ways you can’t imagine.
“You know … you live through something like the Depression, in an area like the Dust Bowl, it’s gonna affect the way you view the world,” North Kansas City’s Roy “Mac” McCormick explained recently, (Mac is 101, by the way). “And when you have nothing, lemme tell you,” he continued, “You have to work. And I mean work hard,” he added, smiling.
Listening to Mac got me to thinking about a number of things, but, in particular, I found myself reflecting on how the concept of hard work relates to our involvement with the political process, government and, more specifically, this fall’s Presidential election.
It is crucial that we all work harder at becoming involved and better educated as this campaign unfolds. And this doesn’t mean simply flicking on your car radio during your commute, or turning on the TV for 15 minutes when you’re first up in the morning or about to drift off to sleep. It takes much more than that. Taking a cue from our older citizens, (who, by the way, are historically the most involved sector of our citizenry, voting-wise), it’s time to read, engage, dig deeper, and then read and listen even more. If we seize the moment, these can be truly revolutionary times. From what I’m seeing out here, some of the very best writing and expression we’ve had in a long time is happening right now, but it’s up to each one of us to take advantage of this bounty.
Sure, I understand that it’s sometimes tough to sort through the data hodgepodge being served up via our news and entertainment outlets. This system not only doesn’t enroll people, it pushes them to run to their “information comfort zones”; places that serve to merely massage a person’s already existing belief systems. These people end up seeking their information solely from those places telling them what they want to hear – nothing more. This kind of myopic cop-out is not only lazy in its approach, it is downright dangerous to our collective health.
A quick story: the other day, I was writing in my favorite coffee shop and noticed a senior woman reading Senator Obama’s book, “The Audacity of Hope.” I glanced up intermittently, and wondered why this woman was reading the book. I came up with three scenarios: (1) She’s a Democrat, voting for Senator Obama, reinforcing what she already believes. (2) She’s a Republican, voting for Senator McCain, but she’s open-minded and wants to learn more. Number (3) is what I call my “wishful-thinking” scenario. The woman is an independent, undecided voter, also doing the work by gathering the information she needs to make her informed decision.
When the woman got up to leave, she walked by me and we exchanged smiles. Of course, I had to ask.
“Is it good?”
She winked, lifting the book to show me.
“Oh, yes,” she said, “Very much so,” she added.
We chatted a bit and, not being shy, I proceeded with my “scenario-check.” Not being shy herself, the woman shared with me that she wasn’t sure yet. “I want to learn more,” she explained. “And I’m reading John McCain’s writings as well,” she added.
I loved it. A woman hungry for information, not hiding in her comfort zone. Fighting off the avalanche of sound bites and slogans, this woman was eager to make her decision based on her own research, not on someone else’s carefully crafted spin.
When did Americans lose the ability to think for themselves, anyway? It seems most Americans are, in fact, not only swayed by superficial dribble, but they are increasingly relying and thriving on such information. I mean, something as simple as reacting to a speech becomes problematic today, because of the volume of pundits – commenting, arguing … downright yelling at one another. Here’s a thought: if a speech or candidate inspires or nauseates you, simply go with your gut. The problem today is that immediately after folks watch a particular speech or debate, they then allow the talking-head commentary to chip away and hijack their initial feelings.
And so all us must fight back against this urge to take the easy way out. Instead of fleeing into our narrow cubby holes, we need to work harder in our quest to seek out solid facts about the real issues. And it’s here I would caution folks not to allow polls to distract them. Today’s seemingly endless flow of polling numbers merely adds another useless layer to the process; talk about the tail wagging the dog. Remember, there is only one poll that counts – the poll taken on Election Day – which brings me to the last, most critical, step of the process.
Please vote on November 4. No matter what it takes, get to the polls on Election Day. Pull that lever, push that button, or punch that chad (with vigor, please). Take personal responsibility for expressing what you want most for your self, family, community, and … your country.
Okay – Enough.
Get to work.