In Part 1, we discussed resources for the recruitment and education of candidates for office, as well as for voters who wish to learn the facts about the candidates up for election.
There is one final area of consideration: our own selves and how we react to the incoming stimuli. It is recognizably true that information cascades over us 24/7/365, and that we are presented with, if anything, too many choices in our daily lives. Avantika Krishna’s article “Paralyzed by Choice,” speaks to this point.
Back in the days when ice cream came in chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry; deciding what flavor milkshake you wanted wasn’t so difficult. Now, not only do you have dozens of ice cream flavors to think about, you also have to decide which of the add-ins you want: cookie pieces, candy pieces, nuts, flavor syrups, frostings, etc. And do you want whipped cream with that? Do you want that for here or to go? Aren’t there times when you just want somebody to make it simple for you?
Ice cream is easy compared to – say – federal tax policy. Are tax subsidies to nurture and grow new businesses good things? Are existing tax subsidies for established and profitable businesses bad things? Should all individual income from all sources be taxed? Should the rates be lowered or raised? Is a flat rate income tax both fair to all income groups, and will it bring at least as much or more money into the treasury as existing progressive rates do? The Republicans say that our corporate tax rate is too high and the Democrats say that it has never been as low as it is now. They can’t both be correct … can they?
How do you make sense of this junk? And this is only a small section of one area of national policy! Do you try to learn every detail of the entire tax code? Do you consult your tax advisor, economics professor, financial planner, or other trusted expert in the field for a rundown of the salient points? Do you throw up your hands and allow somebody else to think for you … like the punditocracy on FOXNews, or perhaps MSNBC? Do you listen to the fearmongers from either side and allow them to scare you out of thinking altogether?
Or do you do something else? Do you actually think for yourself? A practice many of us talk a lot about but which few of us seem to accomplish. It takes some time and some space. Summer vacation is a wonderful time to think. You need no special equipment except, of course, your brain in working order and a commitment to the following, 2-step process of self examination. Bask in the sunshine on the beach, or hike along a trail in the mountains while you think. Or gaze into a campfire, or simply rock on a porch swing. But, dedicate the time to go through the thinking process. You might be surprised at what you find in the end.
Step 1: Just breathe and concentrate on yourself for the first 5 or 10 minutes. Nothing else … just notice the way the breath feels going in and out of your lungs and the sun feels on your face. Notice how your legs feel if you’re walking; how your back and neck feel if you’re lying down. Just breathe and let everything else – like your plans for the evening or the barking dog next door – go away. This is your time.
Step 2: Allow yourself to answer – really answer for all time – these questions:
Is there a cause or idea to which I will dedicate my life? Articulate it; name it; define it.
Is there a cause or idea for which I would give my life? Articulate it; name it; define it; know it; know what it would mean to die for this cause or ideal.
What are the characteristics and values associated with this/these cause(s) or idea(s)? Define them; internalize them.
Are there places and times or situations when I find myself in conflict between expedience and my values? Define these times; understand them. Understand why you have gone against your values.
Am I consistent? Is my behavior and thought consistent with my values? Are these consistent with the choices I have made in the past?
If you can do this and can truly know yourself this well before the age of 40 then you have accomplished a rare and wonderful thing. Your difficulties with the information overflow will channel themselves more easily, and your decisions among candidates and political causes will be more solid and less prone to second-guessing. All situations change; life is dynamic and evolving, and it isn’t unexpected for one’s political positions to evolve. One simply must have an organic and well-defined base of values from which to express one’s policies in order to be able to move with the political times.
This is part two in a three-part series.