01 February 2012

People Move Mountains  


People move mountains.

Over the past 4 years, I have taken to pen and keyboard to write my thoughts--however disjointed, misguided or ill-conceived they might be--and to share them, for your consumption and debate. The topics we have discussed have maintained a mostly-political bent, but have touched on the religious, spiritual, economic, social and deeper human issues that I have faced or witnessed others face around the world.

For years, I have thought of myself as a writer. This small piece of the Internet, and its tagline--"Long runs, legendary musings and an insatiable quest for knowledge"--was my attempt to "learn through writing." Perhaps better stated, I had hoped to take a position, argue it, and through the various work to back up that position through the gamut of opposing remarks and stances, learn a lot more about the issues themselves, the country we live in and the people who comprise her.

What I have learned is that I am part of the problem.

I believe in the words of Abraham Lincoln--that we are a "government of the people, by the people, for the people." Government is about people because government is comprised of people. The contract we enter as free citizens of the greatest country in the history of the world tells me that we all have a stake in government--and government has a large stake in our private successes and failures. Why? Because if the citizen is "I," government is "We." It isn't some alien, foreign entity. It is the embodiment of imperfect people working and straining and striving to contrive that More Perfect Union.

Too often, when we are confronted with problems, we look to the extremes. There is a mounting national debt? Government is to blame. There is a child being denied medical coverage due to preexisting conditions? Corporations are to blame. And then we systematically and without remorse dehumanize and demolish those extremes. But what is at their core? People with faces and names, families and histories and stories. And how dare we destroy those for some abstraction?

Politics is a noble profession when it brings out the best in its people. It is the worst profession on the face of the earth when it lays bare the opposite. Winning an election because you have the best tagline, or the most money, or happen to be a Democrat in a heavily Democratic area isn't the end-all. Political victory today isn't an end, it is the end, literally--as in "lights out," syonara for a free democratic society. When elected officials place winning over their duties as keepers of the public trust, they erode and fray the very fabric of our founding cloth. When we citizens elect more shirkers--to win for the sake of winning, instead of helping, inspiring and doing the hard, hard work necessary to forge that ever-elusive More Perfect Union--we are just as culpable.

Politics was a noble profession when it got things done. It was a noble profession when it established a young nation, when it ended slavery and when it built rails and highways across this continent. It was a noble profession when it helped those in need, knocked down barriers and blazed a better future for all of mankind.

There is a scene in American history that I remember from Sixth Grade Social Studies with Mrs. Pittenger. Just outside of Richmond, Virginia at the beginning of the Civil War, families and small children came out to the countryside with their picnic baskets and blankets to gaily watch the impending battle between Union and Confederate soldiers at Bull Run. Having been removed from the horror and hardships of conflict, these unsuspecting folks were soon running for the hills as all hell broke loose, leaving food uneaten and the symbols of their previous comfort strewn about a place they thought would be safe, but which was instead turned into a battlefield.

We can never really know for sure when history is going to turn our moments of comfort into trials that define the very core of us individually as people and collectively as a nation. Yet suffice it to say that that feeling you get when you turn on the television, or your iPad, or watch YouTube videos, or read the hateful comments on Partisan Blog Y--that anger mixed with befuddlement and genuine helplessness you feel for the future of humanity--all from the comfort of your favorite arm chair or espresso joint is our generation's Bull Run. We are being chased, and we can either give up and lose, or we can buck up and face our challenges--but beware, we will have to work harder than we have ever imagined before. Perseverance means victory, but it is never within our comfort zone.

There was an idea that was America, once, and it was this: "Never forget that a small, dedicated group of people can change the world. Because it's the only thing that ever has."

I realized that there was a time in my life--not so long ago--that I dreamt of working hard to live by that idea. Instead, over the past few years, I have gotten sucked into the hyper-partisan atmosphere that says a small, dedicated group of people cannot possibly change the world if they are Democrats, or if they are Republicans, or if they are capitalists or communists or socialists or pragmatists or idealogues. We let preconceived notions define us and our world, leaving us impotent and feeling powerless to change what we must to endure.

This little corner of the Internet used to be filled with a few good ideas, but a lot of vitriol and caustic one-liners. And to what end? The furthering of a partisan culture that drones on like a national self-destruct sequence. No more.

We have problems--this is true. These problems have public and private solutions. They have government and corporate solutions. They have local and municipal and state and federal and global solutions. But while we try to decide which solution Tweets the best, or polls the best, or looks best in a 30-second SuperPAC commercial, what happens to those very real, tangible problems? Who actually solves the things we complain about? There are seven billion people in the world--good feelings, good intentions and even good blog posts are not good enough.

My favorite Bible passage is from Matthew 25:35-40, when Jesus talks to a group of "righteous" people: "
'For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’"

No one is unworthy of our help, our care or our time. Half a century ago, a president admonished us to "ask what you can do for your country." We have had fifty years to ask that question. It is time for us--myself, first--to answer, and to act.

There is work to do for young men and young women; for families and folks trying to make ends meet; for our nation's soldiers and veterans; for our grandparents and great-grandparents; for our disabled, our poor, our hopeless. And every dollar we fork over to Candidate X, and every second we spend screaming at one another in some desperate attempt at persuasion called a "political campaign" is a disservice to all of those Americans. It means one more needless abortion. It means one more foreclosure on a house where somebody has made a life. It means one more family that has to choose between keeping their house or keeping their son alive through the leukemia. It means one more veteran that ends up homeless. It means one more nameless face that dissolves into oblivion on the streets of too many cities and slums around the world.

And what I realized is that every dollar that I spend, every word that I say and every second that I live has a very remote chance to change somebody's life for the better. And maybe an even more remote chance to change some family's life for the better. And even more remote still, a small chance to change a community or a city or a state or a country. And what of that one word, one dollar, one idea, one second that could change the world for the better?

I don't have any more of those to lose, because you see, the bickering and the partisan argument isn't necessary when the answer is staring you straight in the eye: Politics doesn't move mountains anymore.

People move mountains.

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