Initiate a conversation about politics these days and you’re likely to elicit eye rolls or an “ugh” from your friends. I have several friends with whom the entire subject is strictly off limits. I used to be one of them.
But I’m a writer and English teacher, so pardon me while I offer a quick little lesson in etymology. While the word politics is something we’ve come to think of as dirty, corrupt, blue vs. red, two parties in a ring squaring off, you should know that this isn’t actually what the word is supposed to mean. At least, that’s not how it started. It comes from the Greek word polis, which means “community” or “citizenry.”
Politics isn’t about leaders and followers. It’s about people coming together to deal with the affairs of state. Imagine that: people like you and me—NOT just a select few people in suits—coming together to solve problems and improve the places where we live.
Politics is a great thing, arguably one of humankind’s greatest accomplishments. We should absolutely be talking about politics with each other.
What’s not good is how we have turned the affairs of state over to a select few politicians—people we then spend an inordinate amount of time either blaming for all the bad stuff that happens or praising for the good stuff. Rather than talking about politics in its truest sense—talking about how to fix the problems we face, whether it’s school policies or issues of health care treatment or the trash on the sidewalk—we incorrectly assume that talking about politics means sniping at the other side, blaming the guy in charge, while sitting back, shaking our heads, and bemoaning our decline.
I own that I’ve done it too. My candidate didn’t win, and I went through a significant mourning period. I’m still in it, to be quite honest. I am so far apart from him on the issues that matter to me, I despaired for the future.
But in the last couple of years, as my daughter has gotten older and is learning how to take greater personal responsibility, I’ve realized that it’s up to us as her parents to show her what politics really is, and to serve as examples of what taking personal responsibility is really about. That means I have to speak up for what I feel is right and important, and I’m committed to doing that from now on, though it may make a few people uncomfortable.
When my daughter came home upset last year because a friend had said something unkind to her, I urged her to initiate a real, honest-to-God, face-to-face conversation to say to her friend that her feelings were hurt by the thing she’d said, and to work out whatever problem had provoked the unkind comment in the first place. Thought it may not seem like it, THIS is the root of politics. This is people coming together, in a small way, to solve a problem. Her parents aren’t going to solve problems like this for her as she grows up, so she’ll have to learn to do it herself. So, too, should we stop turning to our elected leaders to do it all for us; if we want something done, we have to do it ourselves. And we have to quit hiding from the unpleasantness of politics in order to be informed about the things that matter most to us.
Because I want to have a say in the workings of my daughter’s classroom (and I want to know more about how things operate before, in a fit of outrage, I march in there and perhaps unjustly blame the teachers or other students for things), I volunteer in her class. I can’t give a lot of time, just two hours every two weeks, but it’s what I can do, and it’s a top priority for me. And the insights I gain are tremendous. It helps me to understand what challenges the teachers and students face.
And because I wanted to learn more about school policies and do more to help her school in the midst of overcrowding challenges, I joined the board of the Parent Faculty Association as communications chair. I’m still learning how things work, and I sometimes I feel that my contributions are woefully small and insignificant. But I’m giving what I can, what skills I have, and putting them to work for something I believe in, because I want to have a say in creating solutions.
It’s one of the reasons I love contributing to this blog. When I was frustrated about the district’s new wellness policy or concerned about the many myths surrounding Common Core or angry about the problems leading to the district’s severe overcrowding problems, I did what I could: I researched, I learned more, and I wrote. I voiced my opinion, and hopefully helped somebody to understand an issue or prompted him or her to learn more, too.
And it’s what I’m hoping to continue doing. I’m going to put my money, and my time, where my mouth is. I’m planning to channel my frustrations about our leadership in a positive way, by exercising politics. I can’t sit around pointing fingers. I’ll learn more, from credible sources, and I’ll give what I can, whether it’s my time, my presence, my writing, or, if I have it, my money to the causes and solutions that mean something to me.
Look, I don’t want to sit here and engage in a red vs. blue argument. I can save that for a well-reasoned debate in another medium. All I’m saying is that whatever position you take on an issue, whatever party you vote for, remember that politics isn’t about hoping someone else does the work for you. It’s about getting involved in some way, being part of the problem AND the solution. If you want to make the world a better, kinder place, start by being a better, kinder person. Start by quitting the blame game. That gets you nothing but growing resentment.
Instead, be a true politician. Start listening to each other, arriving at agreements, and taking it upon yourself to do what part you can, whether it’s picking up your own trash at a citywide event (if you can’t do this small thing, you don’t get to complain about paying city workers too much to do it), or bringing your own tote bag to the grocery store instead of using that single-use plastic bag, or volunteering at your kid’s school or a local nonprofit, or even just reading the whole newspaper story in order to be informed before sharing that article with the provocative headline on Facebook.
Do it because your kids watch what you do, and they learn from you. Make sure they’re learning personal responsibility and care about community from you too.
P.S. There’s a great bipartisan nonprofit in our community called Empowerment Nevada that’s promoting this mindset of personal responsibility! Check out the website and learn how “owning it” can actually have a real impact on the world!