It’s time to call a moratorium on calling the other side liars, or saying that they lied, or anything that in any way intimates less than a complete disclosure of the absolute truth. We, as voters, have one job to do (besides pull the lever), and that is to discover the truth for ourselves. With the internet and, conservatively, thousands of people anxious to let us know what is really going on, there is no reason that everyone in the United States is not up to speed on whatever they want to know about.
I know, I know, that there are many (too many) people who won’t hesitate to vote, even if the only information they have on a race is the name on a yard sign. Well, then, feel free to take it upon yourself to help educate—not the particulars of your favorite politician, issue, or other item, but on the necessity of learning to discern the facts from the actual facts. Teaching people how to educate themselves will pay off much more in the long run than simply trying to sway them to your side on one issue.
Plus, the benefits of having an educated populace extend much further than the political arena. An educated populace doesn’t need all of those protections that politicians love to offer: relief from online scammers, credit card issuers, too-large sodas, and all the other ills that beset people with no knowledge of how economics and nutrition work.
Further, an educated populace recognizes the value of saving for college, for retirement, and for a new home, and doesn’t need subsidized student loans and mortgages, or Social Security and Medicaid.
An educated populace doesn’t toss all of its money into Wall Street and then complain when the market drops. An educated populace tends more to act out of logic than emotion, and is less susceptible to scare-mongering tactics.
We have a proud history of providing a free education to the public, and have raised our literacy rate a tremendous amount. Especially considering the disparate languages and cultures that comprise our student body, we have excelled in communicating our common, core ideals and knowledge throughout the land.
Our main problem is that we are living in a time of accelerated change. While the level of basic education remains the same, we are daily exposed to concepts that many of us have no frame of reference for. Thus, we tend to rely on those who we trust to tell us the truth. Unfortunately, politicians have an inherent conflict of interest. If they told the entire truth, they would have a hard time getting elected. Instead, they offer shaded meanings, hoping that their influence holds sway, and the other side doesn’t have a chance to offer an opposite point of view.
The biggest obstacle we face is figuring out how to engage people in politics. How to make them understand that elections have consequences. How to relate politics to real life. More people are willing to get involved in presidential elections, but it is actually the local elections that have the most effect on their lives. Yet, most people are unconcerned about who runs the city council. They would rather just go about their business, and let politics take care of itself.
It’s just so much work to read up on all those politicians and their stands on all those issues. And then to keep up with all their speeches, their rationales, their votes. It’s more than any one person cares to do, unless it’s his job. Almost as difficult as trying to figure out how to engage those who don’t want to be bothered.
But what is the alternative? Let the uneducated voters keep doing what they do, making decisions based on whoever panders the most? The only thing more difficult than going through the effort of trying to drag reluctant people to the shores of discernment is living in the world they construct based on their misguided ideas.
Our choice here is not between today’s world and utopia. It is between what we face today and what we will have to deal with tomorrow. Make the choice: be part of the solution. Together, we may be able to slowly swerve this huge country onto a track that proceeds because people have rationally considered the logical consequences of their decisions, instead of screaming to the left or right through unjustified fears.
Not only do we need to teach critical thinking skills in our schools, we need to hold our TV and other media personalities to high standards of reasoning, as well. The lines have become blurred between news and entertainment, with those on nominally informative platforms joyfully raising voices, interrupting each other, and refusing to answer tough questions. Not only do we get the government we deserve, we also get the news organizations and political pundits we deserve.
Each of us with a blog, a Twitter account, or a Facebook page, has the opportunity to express our thoughts on any subject under the sun. I understand that most people don’t want to be bothered, or don’t want to offend, but there is no reason that political discussion can’t be held in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
Politics doesn’t only occur every four years. Our elected officials are working, either for us or against us, depending on our point of view, every day. We need to make sure that they are doing their jobs, behaving in a responsible manner with our money and our liberty, on a daily basis as well. Political discussions may not be as glamorous as gossip, but ultimately politics affects our daily lives more than do the goings-on of Tom Cruise, the Kardashians, Honey BooBoo, or Kanye West. We should learn to act in accordance with that fact of life.
Starting with an extension of respect to all, practice your debate skills while enlightening the other side about your views, and absorbing their views. It’s amazing that, in a country where all can agree that we’d all like everyone to succeed, we can be so polarized about how to achieve that goal. Communication and empathy have broken down, and it’s up to us to build the necessary bridges.
Image courtesy of digitalart/freedigitalphotos.net