One of life’s most disconcerting lessons to learn is that our experience in the world isn’t about reality and truths it is about the stories we tell ourselves are real and true. What we believe is happening in our lives is really nothing more than a story that we are making up about what is taking place. The sun is shining therefore it is going to be a great day to spend time in the warmth watering my plants or the sun is shining therefore all my plants are going to shrivel in the sun. Same day, same situation, different perspective; the key is that each person is choosing to create their reality and then it is so.
As we pause (hopefully) as a nation to contemplate the past 16 days of political leadership in Washington, let us not take the easy out by identifying a culprit and demonizing him, yes Ted Cruz is an easy target, rather could we look at the stories we have been telling ourselves and ask why it is that we have believed them?
While the stories are plentiful on Capitol Hill, here are a few deserving of public reflection:
· The only way to be effective (lead) is to be in office: the true crisis in our political system isn’t the partisan divide it is merely a symptom of the larger issue that maintaining one’s office has become the driving force behind every decision that is made by elected officials. No longer is actual progress toward goals even discussed let alone achieved, officials simple careen from one crisis to another while appeasing special interests and raising money for their next election. The irony, is that in the mania to stay in office they have made their participation in a defunct system, essentially laughable, except for the sad fact that millions of Americans rely on the government’s efficacy to maintain the rapidly falling standards of our society. We are in a free-fall while our elected officials grasp onto the last wisps of a system that is functioning at the bare minimum.
· If it is on the news it must be true: the 24-hour news cycle that once gave us unfettered access to the inner workings of policy making and political leadership has fallen into the same trap of our elected officials—the almighty dollar rules and they will do anything to get it. Ratings, sensationalism, and stories told as if they are fact rule the airwaves. Just as the reality of our life is a reflection of our interpretation, so too is the news. And for every story you can find as many different slants as there are networks. Our news is no longer the purview of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, opinions, views, innuendo seep into every story and color the experience.
· There is nothing that we (the public) can do about the mess in Washington: This is the most tragic of story being perpetuated and one whose resultant actions are astonishing. While Congressional approval ratings have dipped under 10 percent, the rate at which members are re-elected remains around 90 percent. An ultimate tribute to the problem is “out there” and my congressman and our district are “just fine.” Without a justifiable digression into the gerrymandering practices that have created “super districts” where incumbents are all but guaranteed electoral success, the public has acquiesced to first two stories and have become complacent in our basic responsibility to participate in our democracy. This is the most damaging story of all, as the small percentage of the public who engage are those at the extreme edges who enjoy focus on a tree they are passionate about while the needs of the forest go unattended.
Ultimately, the solution to the challenges in Washington rest in the hands of the public and our willingness to change the narrative of the story. Is being in elective office the only way to create change and achieve goals? Is remaining in office the be-all end-all even if nothing productive is happening? And if not, why do we keep re-electing these people? Is everything we hear on the news true? Are we willing to become more informed participants and not just replay what we hear as absolute truth? And what are we willing to do in our own communities to create the change we want to see in the world, instead of always relying on others to do it for us?
I don’t know what good with come out of the government shut down in Washington and I don’t know what people who are so immersed in a broken system can be expected to do change it. And I do believe the in the individual and ability of each person to create change, to choose to tell a different story—the story of what they aspire to in the future, rather than of fear of what others are doing or not.
Leadership doesn’t start in Washington, it starts with each one of us—without our leadership, the world will not be the same and more than ever, we need the change only we can bring to the world. It only takes one step and if we make it, we can use this crisis to begin creating a society in which we all want to live.
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