The more I seek to be a responsible, engaged citizen, the more often I want to curl into a ball and hide. It is tempting to draw a little circle of “us” where things feel safe and we all agree with one another, and to just live there, in our own tiny bubbles. Trouble is, once you start down this path, the circle just gets smaller and smaller, and soon your “us” shrinks all the way down to “me”. Lost in a sea of cynicism and defensiveness, it’s you alone against the great big stupid world.
I take some comfort in the fact that this divisive potential of politics has been noted in the United States for (at least) 220 years. Here is a passage from Washington’s farewell address in 1796:
One of the expedients of party… is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heart burnings which spring from these misrepresentations. They tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection.
As citizens in the US prepare to vote this fall, let’s hold this close, the idea that it’s the affection that’s real, not the misrepresentations. We are one great big messy WE, not an Us or a Them – no matter what box you check on your ballot.
Here’s to our ties of affection, which persist despite all of our best efforts to loosen them. Thank goodness the knots hold tight.