With our New Year's resolutions in full effect, at least in theory, what is it that we've decided to do differently? What changes are we prepared to make? Will we be more of this and less of that?
A Google search for "New Year's resolutions" will uncover some 24 million possibilities. That alone is already making this feel like an exercise in futility. Let's face it: There's so much structurally wrong with the entire enterprise.
How many times have you heard someone declare they are going back to the gym, compared to the number of pounds they lost as a result of the newfound resolve to officially implement their decision on the first day of a new year?
There is something about the whole proposition that is defeatist from the outset. And I think deep down (well, maybe not so deep) we know that to be true. Yet we declare them nevertheless.
So I wish to propose a New Year's resolution for members of Congress ex post facto.
The resolution is simple: I propose that each member of Congress (House and Senate) spend time with another member in 2016 who holds a different social and political viewpoint.
I realize, if taken seriously, that may cause many to discontinue watching their favorite cable news show or Internet site, especially if the preferred vehicle is merely a justification to affirm preconceived notions. What is often presented as information is nothing more than the justification that robs us of curiosity.
The lack of inquisitiveness allows us to conveniently construct a straw man that is fortified by our worst assumptions.
What Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird" tells Scout ("You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view ... until you climb into his skin and walk around in it") is poppycock of the highest order in a society endowed by apathy and certainty.
It is amazing to hear elected officials tout their position on a particular issue by beginning, "The American people will/won't support this for the following reasons," as if the constituents they represent are the "American people" while all others who hold a different opinion are, well, all others. I call this practice the "Hezbollah phenomenon." (And please, no puerile emails suggesting that I'm comparing members of Congress to Hezbollah.)
Hezbollah's literal translation is "the party of God." If I belong to the party of God, is there really any point to negotiate or seek to a middle ground?
Likewise, if I speak for the American people on an issue pertaining to them, why do I need to budge on my position?
Imagine if the men and women we send to Congress, instead of proclaiming the other side as Satan's love child, actually possessed the curiosity to understand why some see the world differently? What if a conservative member of Congress from a rural area visited the district of a liberal counterpart representing an urban area, and vice versa?
This exercise is not designed to create harmony, but to have a more heightened insight into the differences that justifiably exist between the two parties.
It does represent an opportunity to find out whether Atticus Finch is right. What could happen if members of Congress, albeit briefly, dared to consider things from the opposition's perspective because they possessed the unmitigated gall to, if not climb into his or her skin and walk around, at least stand on the same street corner?
What if we had a Congress that did not lead with slogans, prepared talking points or assumptions, but a vision in the back of their minds of why the opposition's perspective differs?
Having been to the opposition's district could produce a newfound appreciation for difference. But the beneficiaries of this congressional New Year's resolution are ultimately we the people.
We can ill-afford to remain on the path that says: "If more people thought the way I do this country would be fine."
A comforting thought, but ineffectual.
Bear in mind, however, this is, after all, a New Year's resolution -- the place where change goes to die.