Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Hope Against Hope

by Eric Utne

Note: This is an essay by Eric Utne in the Utne Reader, Nov-Dec, 2012, p92. I don't often copy someone's essay and place in on my blog, but this was so well stated I wanted to share it with you without my interpretation. Please subscribe to Utne Reader. It's a wonderful, valuable asset.

I don't know about you, but I've been very disappointed by Barack Obama's presidency. Yet, despite of my disappointment' I'm going to do everything I can to support his reelection. 

Like so many people, I was inspired by his "hope" speech at the Democratic National Convention eight years ago. And I was truly engaged by his promising "Change You Can Believe In" campaign four years ago. In his Grant Park victory speech, President-elect Obama spoke directly to the young people who'd done so much to win him the vote: "The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there:'

The joyous faces of the people who flocked to Washington for the historic inaugural reflected the county's deep longing for the change that Obama's election promised. That election seemed to herald a new era that would get our country back on a more democratic and progressive path. Our expectations were high. We looked forward to stronger environmental protections, the development of renewable energy
and the creation of green jobs. We assumed that the growing threats to civil liberties, most grievously on display at Guantanamo Bay, would be reversed and that our government would once again champion the cause of social justice. We were thrilled to think at long last that Americans would have universal health care. I
even assumed that the Serve America program, which advocated volunteer service for all ages, would be implemented. We began to imagine that the U.S. could have more harmonious and collaborative relations at home and abroad. Most urgently, the U.S. and world financial system had nearly collapsed and we expected that at the very least the fiscal recklessness of the financial sector that had caused such harm would lead to prudent and stringent financial regulations. I even half-expected leading Wall Street bankers to be put in stocks and publicly pilloried in Zuccotti Park. Wouldn't that have been satisfying?

Like many people, I'm appalled by the political gridlock in Washington and the cynicism that infects the political process. It is hopeless, you might say. But it was Bill Clinton, the man from Hope, Arkansas, himself, who turned me around by his speech at this year's DNC, with comments like this, "President Obama started with a much weaker economy than I did. No president-not me or any of my predecessors could have repaired all the damage in just four years. But conditions are improving and if you'll renew the President's contract you will feel it. I believe that with all my heart"

But Clinton won me over not so much by what he said as by who he is as a human being. It's not his gift for "splainin' stuff," or his ability to work with people from all sides to get things done that impresses struggles-his characteristic "I feel your pain”

I believe that Clinton's social compassion and empathy for others hold the key to what we need to do to get past the polarization and divisiveness that distorts our democracy. Social and emotional intelligence. Empathy. The ability and willingness to put ourselves in other peoples' shoes. This is not the laissezfaire, survival of the fittest, AynRandian way that currently grips some leaders of the Right.

Mystic philosopher and social innovator Rudolph Steiner (1861-1925), predicted that modern society would become ever more individualistic, eventually reaching a paralytic point of divisiveness- "a war of all against all.” He saw individuation as an evolutionary step beyond group identification based on blood kinship and ethnicity. Individuation allows people to develop their unique gifts and abilities. But, Steiner said, individuation is not the end point of human evolution. Individuation tends to lead to isolation, alienation, and loneliness. We evolve beyond individualism when we develop our capacity for empathy and by creating diverse communities based not on blood kinship but on our common humanity.

When accepting his party's nomination for a second term as president, Obama echoed his 2008 Grant Park speech with these words, "America, I never said this journey would be easy, and I won’t promise that now. Yes, our path is harder but it leads to a better place. Yes, our road is longer-but we trawl it together. We don’t turn back. We leave no one behind. We pull each other up .... "

This is the language for the future. Our hope lies in our compassion for our fellows and our recognition that we’re all in this together. E pluribus unum.