This article first appeared on the blog of Intentional Insights, a nonprofit organization that empowers people to refine and reach their goals by providing research-based content to help improve thinking, feeling, and behavior patterns.
How can we gain a richer life purpose and meaning through rational political engagement?
You pass through the long security line at the United States Capitol building in Washington, DC. While the line of tourists streams forward into the Exhibition Hall, you turn right, and head to the Senate appointment desk. There, you sign in, get an ID badge, and are guided by a security officer to a large meeting room. You mingle with political staffers, reporters, and various notables. Soon, your state's Senator walks in. You introduce yourself, talk to the Senator one-on-one for several minutes, describe what you care about, and how s/he can help improve US policy. The Senator hears you out, responds to your concerns, and connects with you on a human level.
This story may sound unreal, but it does happen. I'm living proof, as that is my story. I, along with Agnes Vishnevkin, my wife and fellow Intentional Insights co-founder, met with Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown at the constituent coffee hour that he holds regularly. We talked with him about the issues we cared about, such as using reason and science to inform education and family planning. We also shared with him about Intentional Insights and its mission of translating complex academic research into practical strategies and tools that help people achieve their goals in daily life. He heard us out and expressed support for our issues and perspectives, and endorsed the mission of Intentional Insights. I was especially surprised when, after I told him I research meaning and purpose and decision-making practices in the Soviet Union, he started speaking to me in Russian.
Apparently, he studied Russian as his undergraduate major, and still remembered it, which impressed me quite a bit.
So what does this political advocacy have to do with meaning and purpose? Well, a strong sense of meaning and purpose clearly correlates with serving others. Likewise, developing and cultivating social and community bonds generally leads to a powerful feeling of a meaningful and purposeful life. And my and Agnes' meeting with Senator Brown at constituent coffee hour included both.
We met Senator Brown as part of the 2014 Lobby Day and Policy Conference hosted by the Secular Coalition for America. We received training in how to lobby politicians, panel presentations on how to advocate for reason-based political decision-making, and supporting materials on the benefits of using science and data to inform policy. Such political advocacy offers an indirect but powerful means of serving others through influencing the government to adopt the most rational approaches in serving the public good. Moreover, the event offered the opportunity to develop and cultivate social and community bonds with fellow Americans who cared about reason-oriented political decision-making. I was excited and enthused to meet so many others across the country who wanted the government to make decisions based on rational evidence, not on traditional cached thinking patterns, gut reactions, genetic differences, or anti-science dogmatic claims.
You don't have to go to Washington to lobby your politicians. I carried my enthusiasm back home to Ohio, and indeed Ohio holds an annual Ohio Secular Summit, where you can lobby your state representatives the same way that Agnes and I lobbied Senator Brown. And you can do so with other members of your community. For example, Agnes and I are part of the Humanist Community of Central Ohio, which organized a speaker to present about the Ohio Secular Summit before it occurred, and then Agnes compiled a blog post based on the experiences of those who participated. Ohio also has a highly active forum for political activities of interest to reason-minded individuals, where you can find out about relevant issues. Besides lobbying your representatives in person, you can call them, send them letters, e-mail them, sign petitions, and so on, and know you are participating in a broader action with others who care about the government making rationally-informed policies. To locate your own state forum, check out the Secular Coalition for America's state chapters. Also, consider getting engaged in local politics, by learning about how local politics works, by voting in all elections and especially local ones, by being a poll watcher and vote counter, by running for local office, and in many other ways.
The Ohio Secular Summit blog post describes how those who participated found it an empowering and meaningful experience. This demonstrates on a concrete level the research-based evidence of how we can gain a sense of purpose and meaning from serving others through political advocacy, especially when united together with members of our community in a way that helps cultivate social bonds. Calling, sending letters, e-mailing, and signing petitions is harder to translate into a visceral sense of meaning and purpose. I would suggest stopping and thinking through intentionally about how you serve others through your political advocacy to advance the public good. Through such actions, you can become a true agent of change in your society, and find meaning and purpose through helping create a world where the government relies on research-based strategies to evaluate reality clearly and make effective decisions, enabling all of us to live optimally happy, healthy, fulfilling and flourishing lives.
- Have you engaged in any political advocacy, by yourself or with others in your social circle?
- If so, what benefits do you think you gained?
- If not, how could you gain benefits from doing so? How could your local community and our society as a whole can benefit from such activities on your part?
- If you think these activities would be beneficial for you, what are practical steps you can take to help yourself and others in your social circle engage in political advocacy?
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Bio: Dr. Gleb Tsipursky runs a nonprofit that helps people reach their goals using science, Intentional Insights, authored Find Your Purpose Using Science, and is a tenure-track professor at Ohio State. Get in touch with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.