"You live through something like the Great Depression, in an area like the Dust Bowl, it's gonna affect the way you view the world," North Kansas City's Roy "Mac" McCormack once explained to me. Mac was 102 at the time, by the way. "And when you have nothing -- I mean absolutely nothing -- lemme tell you," he continued, "You have to work. And I mean work hard," he added, smiling.
Listening to seniors such as Mac, as they share thoughts about -- what many consider to be -- our culture's diminishing work ethic, has prompted me to reflect on how the concept of hard work relates to our involvement with the political process, and, more specifically, how it relates to the upcoming presidential election.
The other day, I was doing some writing in my favorite coffee shop and I noticed an older woman reading Mother Jones magazine. That, alone, wasn't all that unusual. What was unusual, however, was the fact that sitting next to the magazine was a book, No Apology: Believe in America, by Mitt Romney.
As the woman packed up to leave, she glanced over and smiled at me. Then, when she walked by my table, we, again, exchanged smiles.
"You're working hard over there," I said.
She winked, lifting up the Romney book to show me.
"Is it good?" I asked.
"Oh, yes. Very much so," she said. "But I want to learn as much as I can about both gentlemen," she continued. "I admire the president and what he's accomplished, so I'm enjoying learning more about him, too. I'm reading everything I can get my hands on!" she added.
I loved it. A woman hungry for information. Fighting off the avalanche of sound bites and slogans, this woman was eager to make her decision based on her own research, not on someone else's carefully crafted spin.
It is crucial that we all work much harder at becoming better educated about the issues as the campaign now heads into the home stretch. And this doesn't mean simply clicking on your car radio during your commute, or turning on the TV for ten minutes at the start and end of the day. It takes much more than that. Picking up on a cue from our older citizens (who, by the way, historically participate in the electoral process more than any other sector of our citizenry), it is time to read, engage, dig deeper, and then read and listen even more.
Sure, I understand that it's extremely challenging to sort through the data hodgepodge being served up via our news and entertainment outlets. Today's media system not only doesn't enroll us, it often pushes us to seek refuge in our "information comfort zones" -- those warm and cozy places that serve to merely massage our already existing belief systems. We end up collecting information solely from those places that tell us precisely what we want to hear -- nothing more. This kind of myopic cop-out is not only lazy in its approach, it is downright dangerous to our collective health. If you find yourself consistently listening solely to one viewpoint, I ask you to pause. Take a good look at what you're doing. Then ask yourself: "Am I really working hard enough here?"
I sometimes wonder, "In these fast and sleek media-driven times, have we lost the ability to think for ourselves?" It often seems as though most Americans are, in fact, not only swayed by superficial drivel, but they are increasingly relying and thriving on such information. Something as simple as reacting to a speech becomes problematic today, because of the volume of pundits -- commenting, arguing... downright yelling at one another.
The upcoming series of candidate debates presents us with the perfect opportunity to try something different. A close friend recently joked about an idea she had, but the more we thought about it, the idea seemed to make some sense. Her suggestion: When you tune in for the first debate, turn off the sound. It doesn't have to be for the entire debate; you can go silent for a portion of it. Then, while it's quiet, observe each individual's demeanor. Watch the way each man smiles, grimaces, or uses his hands and body. Notice the eyes -- that's a big one. Pay attention to the way each candidate interacts with the other, with the moderator, and with the audience. I hope I'm wrong about this, but if you think about it, at this point there is a pretty fair chance that the actual dialog is not going to amount to a hill of beans. So what have you got to lose by trying this little experiment?
Then, once the debate comes to a close, if you're feeling that one of the candidates either inspires or nauseates you, simply go with your gut. You know what you feel. You've done the work. And, by the way, that is precisely the moment when you need to be tough and to hold tight. The challenge today is that immediately after folks watch a particular speech or a debate, they then allow the talking-head commentary to chip away and hijack their initial feelings. That seems troubling to me.
All of us must fight back against the urge to take the easy way out. Instead of fleeing into our narrow cubby-holes, we must work harder in our quest to seek out solid facts about the real issues. And it's here that I would caution folks not to allow polls to distract them. Today's seemingly endless flow of polling numbers merely adds another useless layer to the process. Talk about the tail wagging the dog. Remember, there is only one poll that counts -- the poll taken on Election Day.
Which brings me to the last, most critical, step of the process...
Vote on November 6. The act of casting a ballot is our system's most paramount privilege, and too many of us have grown complacent in taking this extraordinary right for granted. No matter what it takes -- if you haven't voted ahead of time -- make your way to your voting location on Election Day. Pull that lever, push that button, or punch that card. Each one of us is obligated to take personal responsibility for expressing what we want most for ourselves, our families, our communities, and... our country.
Get to work.