Election time is always an interesting time to study human behavior. I’ve found that this election cycle in particular, with its storybook cast of characters (caricatures?) on both sides of the isle has given ample material for observation and spirited discussions on the state of American society and the leaders that represent it.
One of the most consistent words thrown around during election cycles is one that I personally never gave much thought to until recently but is one that every single politician wears like a badge of honor and a personal identifier: values.
Both conservatives and liberals alike tout their values as 'American' and they love to speak about them as if they're these clearly defined and unanimously prioritized concepts in our lives. Sure, everyone celebrates freedom, believes in integrity, wants equality, strives for courage... Everyone loves all of the things that make (or made?) America great. However, what most people don't question is what those words mean to the different people who use them as their personalized battle cries in the political arena.
I think it's safe to say that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders probably have different ways of interpreting the meaning of these 'core' values but that's just speculation on my part...
Regardless, pretty much everything that has happened in the American political arena in the 239 years that we've been around as a nation provides a good example of how shifts in our collective perception determine which values dominate our public policy and what they actually mean to us at the time. They may drive us crazy during election time, we may be tired of hearing about them, but at the end of the day we actually pick what talking points our politicians use to court our votes.
Think about it. While our perceptions, actions, and resulting policies change as we claim to embrace our values, the values themselves never do. Our society and its progress have been defined by the same words over and over again and yet every time we fight a battle in the name of one of our values, we are fighting for something different...
For example, The Civil War, The Women's Suffrage Movement, The Civil Rights Movement, and more recently the fight in the Supreme Court for same-sex marriage were all fought in the name of equality yet equality meant something different every time.
Does this tell us that as we become more aware of our fellow brothers' and sisters' struggles the meaning of equality changes in our collective consciousness to reflect that and we act accordingly? What exactly does the word equality mean to Americans now? Why are we still dealing with discrimination, racism, gender-based wage disparities, and other issues that still fall under the equality umbrella? What's our next "fight" going to be and where do I sign up?
While I have no answers for the questions above, all this reinforces my belief that values are more flexible than we care to admit because they change as we do. In my own experience I've found that my relationship with my values changes much like our collective one does as a nation... New awarenesses bring new definitions. New definitions lead to new actions. New actions lead to new habits, or in the case of government, policies. The more I learn about myself and the role I play in the world and my community, the more I realize just how connected I am to everything and everyone else. That awareness alone informs my actions and what I define as important. More relevantly to this post though, that awareness also informs my vote. (Go Bernie!)
The last 8 years have led me to believe that sociopolitically we're slowly becoming more inclusive as a nation. We still have a long way to go but I have faith in the youth of this country to keep us progressing towards a better future. I meet people every day that inspire me to keep expanding my own perceptions and to be a better person. I think we're waking up and realizing that the rat race we're being sold as success isn't really what it's made out to be. We're all slowly coming to terms with the fact that to make it as a nation and as a planet, we have to look out for each other.
To me, a lot of the misguided and judgmental bullshit we're presented with every day by the media doesn't seem representative of our generation and how we feel about each other but I may be wrong. Regardless, and like the song I chose for this post, I remain hopeful. I can't help but wonder though...
What's going to happen to our political process if and when we realize that we're all more similar than we are different?
(Written and originally sung by the legendary Sam Cooke after an incident where he was refused a hotel reservation for being black, 'Change Gonna Come' became an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement after Cooke's death and when it was covered by Otis Redding. Otis Redding's version is one of my favorite songs of all time and a great song for this post because regardless of the pain you hear in his voice and in the lyrics, the message remains hopeful.... Like me!)