Monday, November 7, 2016

Keeping The Faith In Uncertain Times

  Tomorrow our country will vote for the next President of the United States.  It’s a big deal, a time-honored tradition, and I’ll be incredibly happy when it’s over.  As a nation, we are very polarized in this moment, and the record of our collective suffering is spelled out on our computers in Facebook memes, YouTube videos, and angry Twitter rants.  It’s a sad, and incredibly stressful situation.  For my part, remaining politically active without succumbing to the poisons of greed, anger, and attachment is a daily struggle, and I fail more often than I succeed.  But while reflecting on my college days this morning, I’ve come to a realization in regards to having faith and keeping things in perspective that may prove helpful as we all head to the ballot box tomorrow. 

     I was a member of a fraternity during my undergrad, and we were widely known as the nerd-house on campus.  Our members dressed up as Jedi knights on Halloween, Saturdays always included at least one game of Magic the Gathering, and our overall hygiene was creative to say the least.  I loved it, mainly because we all got along fairly well.  But there were bad parts as well.  Because once a year we would have elections to install new chapter officers, and like clock-work, all of that brotherly love would disappear.  It would be replaced by 40 guys who divided themselves into groups based on how they thought the future of the house should look.  Some groups wanted bigger, better social events while others were focused on increasing our philanthropy work.  Some groups wanted the house to be more active on campus while others wanted greater outreach to chapters at other colleges.  The closer we got to election day, the deeper the divides became.  Personal attacks were launched, feelings were hurt, and one year it got so bad that even our chapter advisers got involved… in order to tell us who they thought should be elected. 

     Please keep in mind, we all got along just fine the rest of the year, but there was something about the election process that brought out the worst in us.  I think it had something to do with our human desire to possess power and have a secure future.  Looking back, I remember truly believing that the future of the house and by extension my entire life rested on who won those elections.  I thought about all of the “good” that I could do if the “right” people were in charge, and I used those thoughts to justify actions that were hurtful to the people around me.  But all of the anger, fear, and frustration that I felt back then seemed perfectly reasonable because I knew that everyone would be better off if my people were put in office!

     But that wasn't the case.  In fact, not much really changed from one year to the next after elections.  Sure, some of our chapter presidents were better leaders than others, but that didn’t stop us from getting to class on time.  Sure, some of our chapter secretaries took better notes than others, but that didn’t stop the food truck from delivering to our kitchen every week.  In fact, now that I’m several years removed from all of that drama, I realize that those moments before, during, and after house elections where I worked myself into a tizzy really weren’t all that special.  They were just moments in time where I got to choose whether I wanted to interact with the world from a place peace or from a place of fear.  In that way, they were just like the moment we're experiencing right now in regards to tomorrow’s election.

     To be clear, I understand that electing fraternity house officers and electing the next President of the United States are very different things.  However, I see definite similarities between what I experienced in college, and what I'm witnessing now with the presidential election.  In both cases people are concerned about what will happen in the future.  As a result, they divide themselves into groups of "us" vs. "them", tie themselves into knots of anxiety and frustration, and then say/do terrible things to anyone who doesn't agree with their worldview.  Given everything that is at stake, it's easy to understand why they'd react that way.  The person we put in office tomorrow will have access to nuclear weapons and the ability to choose several Supreme Court justices.  The idea that one person could have that much power is a scary thing.  The idea that the one person with all that power might be someone we disagree with is absolutely terrifying.  Personally, I feel afraid and very weak when I think about that scenario.  As a result, I’m tempted to lash out at the people who disagree with me like I did back in my fraternity days. 

     But now that I’m a bit older, I realize that faith is a much better reaction in uncertain times than fear.  I’m not describing faith in a supreme deity, mind you.  Rather, I’m suggesting that we should have more faith both in ourselves and in each other- a faith that says if we choose to interact with the world from a place of peace rather than from a place of fear, then food trucks will keep delivering food, and people will keep showing up for work.  My fraternity brothers and I didn’t have that kind of faith back in college, and we hurt each other as a result.  But no matter who wins tomorrow, I have faith that our country won’t make the same mistake.   

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