The Presidential election was either the culmination or precursor to some major changes in the way our country views itself, and how we view each other. I can tell you personally it has heightened or highlighted tensions between myself and people whom I love and respect. I don’t think it has much, or anything, to do with the candidates or the parties or the voting process. They are all just catalysts for a larger conversation about what kind of society and world we each thing we should live in.
For some of my circle, this world went from an already mean and heartless place to a even colder place. For some, this world went from soft to softer, from easily offended to even thinner skinned. For some we moved from more communal to less communal. For some we went from too individualistic to even more individualistic. My reaction to all of this was to ask three questions.
First, what kind of world do we live in? Second, what kind of world do we want to live in? And thirdly, why do we want to live in that kind of world. For me, the first question is only mildly interesting. Society, people, rocks, climate, it’s all in flux. Everything moves. Everything changes. Asking to identify it is pinning down a butterfly. What type of society we want to live in is slightly more interesting. And for some, the world should be softer, or harder, or more connected, or less. The last question, for me, is key. Why?
It is a big question, that for now, has led me to a small answer. Why would one want the world to grow towards being a certain way? Myself and those around me might espouse grand ideas: because this is how we create wealth, or keep people free, or protect our country, or ensure fairness. I think it is much more personal than that. We want the world to be a certain way because that is how ‘my people’, thrive.
I will out myself here. I sign onto the adage that it is more true that we are one people than that we are individuals. And I think society is better off when we are more connected and more compassionate. Why do I believe that? Because I, personally, do best in a connected and compassionate environment. I am a strong extrovert who needs people to bounce ideas off of, to create with. I work best in highly energetic teams. I was not talented in sports growing up, and was beat up in school. So I don’t do well with bullies, or alpha leaders, or situations that create a few winners and a large pile of losers. I would not do well as a stock broker.
I could couch all of this in some grand idea about either our historical true nature as human beings, a species that does not thrive in nature except by our communalism. Or I could paint it as the best way for us to move forward by pointing out that our greatest inventions were the works of multitudes, that no one person is going to get us to Mars or out of our solar system before the sun blows.
But the honest assessment is that I believe being generous, and connected, and empathetic is how me and mine thrive. Those around me who believe that we should live in a meritocracy, where hard work should have a direct correlation to wealth and success, well, they are hard workers. That is how people like them thrive. Those who believe it should be the beautiful and the innately talented, those who believe it should be by sheer intellectual horsepower, those who believe in luck, or cunning, or diversity, or God-given talent, or honesty, or rule-following, or cold-heartedness, or piety; we’re all arguing for the success of our own. Even my friend Raheem, who jokingly argued for a hairitocracy (those with the longest hair rule), in contrast to my buzz-cut, was just looking out for his own.
The narrative since the election has been that we have never been so divided, or that there are now (at least) two Americas, or that we have always been a terribly heartless place and this just highlighted it, or returned us to our roots. For me, this is an opportunity for us to (re)define who is us, and who is them. That is tied up, historically, in party, and class, and genders, and race, and wealth, and sexuality, and location. But now we can add it that list that a great part of ‘us and them’ is world view, is our preferred method of success, is a discussion of process as well as progress.
It is a selfish, honest tag added to the sentence, “this is how any good society should act…”
“…so folks like me thrive.”