Do or do not…there is no try

I’m tired. All the time.

Certainly it has something to do with parenting four rather “spirited” children or our move back to Chicago this past year or the strange and untethered nature of our homeschool life, those things would make anyone tired. All the time.

There’s something else though, something more external, I think. I know it’s something else because some days I have the strongest inclination to pick up my family and shipwreck us all on an island far, far away. The world is a hot mess and I’m tired. All the time.

This is why I stopped watching the news. In reality, no one really “watches the news” anymore because “the news” isn’t reported anymore, anywhere. What’s reported is “here’s what happened and here’s how you ought to feel about it” which invariably leads us up and down the roller coaster of emotion for as long as the image lasts on the screen.

I’ll read news stories online still. I haven’t given that up yet. But to be a responsible citizen in my opinion means reading more than one “outlet” of any news event, particularly if it is a political one. It’s responsible because the “where do I place my moral outrage” button is an easy one for any news source to press these days. It’s not about cover ups or the labels of Liberal or Conservative anymore. It’s about manipulation and all sides use it.

We’re human. This is how we’re wired.

Because we’re made for relationship, we’re easy to manipulate. We want to understand, at least for as much as it affects our own family, our own job, our own bottom line. We ought to want to “feel” one way or another about a news event. It is what fuels our capacity for compassion. It is what allows us to leave our selves for a few minutes and be a part of the bigger picture, a fully sanctioned member of the world at large.

It’s exhausting then, to be a pawn in the game played by all traditional media. There is no Liberal media and no Conservative media. There is just the glut of information purveyors, peddling reality TV and calling it “news.”  When we’re thirsty we’re given to drink from the stream of sitcom and 60 minutes. When we’re hungry the meat comes mixed from Jersey Shore and Politico. The air we breathe is the Oprah proton peppered with Fox News electrons. We live these crazy lives of 24/7 information overload and I’m beginning to wonder if that’s something that contributes to our rising need for anti-depressants and alcohol.

It isn’t only the cornucopia of “things to know” which pushes us into the zombie like malaise but rather “what should I fear today?” How much more likely is it that I’ll die early if I eat this Ho-Ho. How much scarier is Iran than I ever suspected? How short and fruitful was the life of the unarmed teen gunned down in Florida? What’s the government doing to screw you over and why should you care?

“What is happening and how should I feel about it?”

It’s easy to feel. It’s a lot easier to feel than to “do.”  We keep that moral outrage button hard-wired into our laptop keys and our remote controls. It is the smudged ink on our fingertips from holding the newspaper too tightly, it is the rising fear  and anger we feel in our heart and our throat and our head when we conclude that we are, ultimately, without power.

How many of us, after having our buttons pushed will actually get up and do something about it rather than open a new page in our browser to complain to the editor or write a blog post or comment on a new article and call it a day? Is that a “do?” I’m not sure.

What strikes me then is that those who actually do something, the people who get up and protest and sit in and occupy, those people are derided. Whether they are Tea Party activists or Occupy Wall Street protesters, these are the people we read about and judge the harshest. While I don’t care much for Tea Party politics I have to say at the very least I admire they’re dedication to “doing something.” They show up, I don’t. I admit that. I don’t show up anywhere. I might write about it, as I’m doing now but truly, after all, what is this more than words on a page meant to  purge my own demons, to assuage my own troubled conscience?

A couple of weeks ago my 9-year-old stumbled across the Kony 2012 video. He watched most of the video before I discovered he’d found it. Since that time every day when we’re out and about he questions me about Kony. “Can he get to Chicago?” “Will I be forced to be a soldier by him?” “Does the army know about Kony?”  He’s afraid but he’s not only afraid. His next set of questions center around “what can I do about this?”  “how can I help?” Specifically he asked if he can help put up flyers about Kony when they come to Chicago. He asks if he can help make the flyers. He asks if there will be a rally or a march about it. He wants to “do something” rather than simply “be afraid.”  As horrified as I’d been about him seeing that video at the tender age of 9 I am also thankful that his response is action and not only emotion. It’s encouraging and it’s inspiring. He was as emotionally manipulated by the video as any adult but his impulse was to “do” and I’m thankful for that.

I think it was Yoda who said, “Do or do not, there is no try.” My 9-year-old has the benefit of that wisdom. I wish I knew what it meant for myself and the other grown ups in my relational circles apart from picking up and moving us all to the desert island far far away.  I’d say I’ll “try” to work on that next but there is no try, there is only do.


big but…or…what not to say in political discussions…

A friend posted this the other day. It’s a rather compelling explanation of Occupy Wall Street….and it’s also an opportunity for PJ O’Rourke to make fun of that explanation. Family fun for everyone.

Whether you agree with Mr Grayson or not I’d like to ask you to watch the video because it stirred in me an old familiar rant which I will gladly detail below.

This is my number one issue with discussions of this ilk, political, religious or otherwise. PJ O’Rourke’s response after Mr Grayson outlines his understanding of Occupy Wall Street was to make a joke about hippies. I guess one could say that being on Bill Maher’s show means that they are supposed to make jokes. I get that. This isn’t Meet the Press.

The problem here is that he’s not making a funny or clever joke. He’s not giving a witty comeback. He’s not expressing some interesting slant in a clever way. He’s just grasping at unfunny straws here. I’m all for making smart and clever replies to an opposing viewpoint. I’m not for simply making fun or calling names without having any kind of real point.

Mr O’Rourke’s response tells me that he doesn’t know what to say so he’s just going to try to shoot for the lowest level. He’s dismissive. He chooses, rather than engaging the point, to draws a picture of the Occupy Wall Street protesters as hippies who don’t care where they go to the bathroom. Really, PJ? That’s what you came up with?

You see, while I happen to agree with Mr Grayson on this I’m also willing to hear a counter argument. I’m willing to have some clever banter from the other side and I’m willing to hear a retort that gives me, as a viewer, more information for the discussion.

Responses like the one Mr O’Rourke gave just stop the conversation, they stop the engagement and this is a problem.

To his great credit Alan Grayson didn’t let that comment end the conversation. He answered not with a humorous jibe but with real passion. I admire that. Apparently the audience admired it too. What they don’t show in this clip is the standing ovation that came when he finished. So maybe this is where it is supposed to end, at a convenient commercial break. Maybe what he said is just the be all end all truth. I’m willing to consider that…and yet…I think I know from experience that a soundbite from a television show on a topic with such emotional cost can never be all-encompassing. Soundbites aren’t enough.

The reality is that we have a highly divided country on pretty much every single level. No one is going to sign on blindly to a sound bite. The only line it’d be possible for us all to agree on might be something like:

“We all want to live and live as well as possible.”

And frankly, that might even need engagement and discussion. As Pee Wee Herman says, “everyone I know has a big but…” We might all sign on to the statement above although I’d wager we could each offer up a big but-

“We all want to live and live as well as possible but we don’t want to pay higher taxes for it”

“We all want to live and live as well as possible but we don’t want a republican president”

“We all want to live and live as well as possible but we don’t want national healthcare ”

“We all want to live and live as well as possible but we don’t want prayer in school”

Your big but and my big but are the reason we need to be able to have discussions and engagement. We need to be able to say, “yes, I hear you but I have an issue with this piece or that piece” and that cannot happen if your response to my articulated argument is to just tear me down by calling me names.

This is particularly fresh to me because I had a political discussion recently and after making a point my conversation partner said, “Well, you are such a good little Obamaite.” I don’t even know what that means. I’m pretty sure it’s not a compliment my friend was offering. It’s dismissive. It says, “Nothing you have said has any value to me” and it ended our conversation. I want to be heard and I’ll go out on a limb to say that you want to be heard too. I’m not asking you to leave your opinion by the wayside and come to my way of thinking, I’m just asking to be respected in our conversation. I don’t think it’s a lot to ask. If your argument is sound and you’re confident you can articulate it then there is no reason to tear down the other.

The bottom line here is that calling people names doesn’t make your point Mr O’Rourke, and it doesn’t make you funny. It just makes me stop listening to you.

That’s all I’m saying.