Today I have been mulling over a quote from my friend Suzanne Ehst. A couple of days ago, she wisely wrote:
“I will vote this Tuesday, and I will watch election returns with passion and hope. I will cheer and boo the coverage like it’s a football game. But I must also acknowledge that if my candidate doesn’t win, my job is not to sit around and lament the fate of our country. My job is to find ways to enact the kind of country that made me vote for my candidate of choice in the first place. Voting in the U.S. is an amazing democratic practice, but sometimes I use that vote to do the work for me. I suppose the same must hold true if my candidate of choice does win. My hands, my words, and my dollar are the most important ways to enact my beliefs.”
This got me thinking (again) about exactly what kind of country (community, world) it is that I’m hoping will be reflected in my vote.
Going back to my Mennonite roots, I voted for the person I most trusted to look out for the “least of these.” I voted for the person I hope will do the most for the elderly, the sick, the poor, the least powerful, the least heard in our public sphere. I voted for the person I most trust to be a champion for the underdog.
I also voted for the person I feel is able to see complexity and nuance, the person I feel has the most integrity, the most heart, the most compassion. I do not agree with everything he has done, but I do believe he is truly trying to make this country a better place for all of us.
And honestly, I voted for the person I would most like to have a drink with, because I think he is smart and thoughtful and has a good sense of humor. And I value those things too.
If that is where I put my vote, then that is where I should also put my own energy, time, focus, and money – no matter who wins tonight (tomorrow? next week?).
I spent the day interspersing my work (luckily, today I worked at home) with watching inspirational speeches and trying (again) to articulate how I try to live out my own values on a daily basis, and in what ways. What is the world I dream of, what is the world we actually inhabit, and how can I contribute to closing that gap?
In the world I dream of, we all have what we need, including love.
In the world I dream of, we are all actually present. We are present to and honor ourselves – and we are present to and with each other. We take time to notice what is around us, right now, here in this moment. We acknowledge our own truths, and we acknowledge others’ truths.
In the world I dream of, we take care of each other. We listen to each other, we help each other out, we practice kindness and generosity, we act more out of love than out of fear. We forgive, we give each other grace and the benefit of a doubt.
In the world I dream of, we work together. That sounds lovely as an ideal, but it’s actually really hard. To successfully work together, we have to be generous, we have to trust each other, we have to be open to learning (and be okay with mistakes in order for that learning to occur). We have to be okay with being “wrong” sometimes, and be gracious those few times we are “right.” We have to understand that “right” and “wrong” are such illusive (and often unhelpful) terms in the first place. We have to be able to give generously – and then also be able to let go of our own contributions. We have to be open-hearted. We have to be okay with complexity and nuance.
I have been brought to tears several times during this campaign season (and not for the same reason as this 4-year-old!). I have been very moved by some of the speeches and some of the heartfelt posts and articles online. These words represent the best of who I think we can be – not just as U.S. citizens, but as human beings; as citizens of the world. And the things that have moved me the most reflect ideals that I hold dear: community, compassion, belief in the human spirit, creativity, generosity, and even playfulness and humor. These are the characteristics that are cultivated in the world I hope for – and work for.
They are, quite frankly, the things I hope I’m teaching in my classes. Yes, I teach theatre, writing, and communications. I teach people to move, to speak, to create, to tell stories.
But more than that, I hope I am teaching people to collaborate, to be generous with themselves and with each other. I hope I am giving them tools to express their deepest and truest selves – through words, images, stories, and movement. I hope I am teaching them to listen, really listen. I hope I am teaching them to listen with compassion – as well as with a critical ear. And I hope I am teaching them to articulate their own truths, whatever those might be. I hope I am teaching them to follow their joy and then to hone their skills so they can make their own unique contributions to our beautiful world.
No matter what happens in this one election, in our one country within this big, big world, I will keep working to cultivate these ideals and values. I voted for the person who I think does that as well – but my vote represents only one small part of what I can do.
What are the ideals and values you will (continue to) cultivate, as we continue forward, no matter what the outcome of this one election, in this one country of our very large world? How will you be using your “hands, words and dollar” (as Suzanne says) – and I would add, your time, energy and skills – to enact your beliefs? What kind of world are we creating together?