For months, we were barraged with a national narrative of a “razor tight” presidential race. (What kind of mixed metaphor is “razor tight” anyway?) But it turned out to be not so close after all. Indeed, some paid attention to voices that were saying all along it would be close, but not so very close, and that the outcome really wasn’t much in doubt. Now a budget deadline is being described as a “fiscal cliff.” Why is so much drama injected into these decisions?
The temptation to ratchet up the emotional intensity of any given situation is real. Perhaps we are motivated by boredom, by a desire to add a sense of passion to situations that would otherwise be marked by torpor and tedium. Perhaps drama makes us feel important, like what we are experiencing is special and powerful. These things speak to essential human needs. We need to feel engaged and interested in life. We need to feel like what we are experiencing and doing matters. These needs are not good or bad; what we do with them, though, can lead us toward nobility, beauty and decency, or down the road to aggression, confusion and chaos.
There are other motives for stirring up drama too. In the case of this most recent contest for the Oval Office, we were faced with a fairly humdrum set of choices. There was precious little talk and debate about climate change, poverty, or the fact that the United States has now been at war longer than at any other time in our history (even in Viet Nam, U.S. combat operations didn’t begin until 1965, ten years before the Paris peace accords), and hardly any discussion about the multiple deployments our armed forces have had to endure or the crisis in mental health that so many of our war veterans face. Talk of middle class tax cuts and natural gas reserves isn’t unimportant, but a deliberate avoidance of other pressing issues necessitates a collective emotional shutting-down. What to fill that void with? “The race is neck-and-neck!”
This is a spiritual issue. What we choose to give our attention to matters. What we choose to think about matters. Do we devote ourselves to ideas and feelings that lead to patience, rationality, open-mindedness, and generosity? Or do we focus on thoughts and emotions that point toward rage, self-righteousness, hysteria and parsimony? What kinds of choices are we demanding that our leaders make? And what choices do we ourselves make?
Follow Rev. Keely on Twitter @evanvwk.