Be kind whenever possible. It’s always possible to be kind.
The Dalai Lama
While I was watching The Rachel Maddow Show the other night, I listened in horror as she relayed the story of former Senator Max Cleland (D-GA). I have neither the time nor space to do justice to Sen. Cleland’s sacrifices here, except to say that he left three of his four limbs on the battlefield in Vietnam. Despite this, Sen. Cleland went on to a long and productive life of public service. Unfortunately, he passed away on Wednesday, November 10th, with few outside Georgia knowing how his years of service in the Senate ended.
While running for re-election in 2002, Cleland enjoyed a five-point lead over Republican Saxby Chambliss a week before Election Day. Then Saxby’s political consultant, Karl Rove (for whom the term “human flotsam” was invented), ran a campaign ad featuring the faces of Osama bin-Laden and Saddam Hussein. The purpose of the ad was to question Cleland’s courage.
As for the definition of “courage,” it would be hard to top leaving three of your four limbs on a battlefield as Cleland did. Yet, Rove, an armchair warrior in the worst sense of the term, saw nothing amiss with questioning Cleland’s courage and commitment to his country.
What did Rove stand for? What did he EVER sacrifice?
That’s when it hit me. I hear a lot of verbal vomit about what’s wrong with America today, and I even agree with some of it. But as for what’s wrong with our country, I’m pretty well convinced a reasonable person could boil it down to a five-word question:
WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR?
Think about those five words for a moment. When I ask, “What do you stand for?” I’m not asking about your religion, your ideology, or your political beliefs. No, what I’m talking about can be best expressed by asking that question in a slightly different and more expansive manner:
WHAT SORT OF IMPACT DO YOU WANT TO MAKE ON THIS WORLD?
If you were to leave this life today, how would you be remembered? Would it be as someone kind, compassionate, and understanding? Or would it be for being mean-spirited, bitter, angry, and hateful?
Would you be remembered for accepting others? Or for judging others based on their skin color, religious belief, sexuality, gender identity and/or any number of artificial dividing lines?
Would you be remembered for listening? Or for screaming?
Would you be remembered for being kind and friendly? Or self-superior and self-righteous?
Would you be remembered for forming opinions based on facts and scientifically sound information? Or as someone who trafficked in conspiracy theories and rejected science in favor of anecdotal, unscientific, and highly questionable information you found on the Internet?
If you call yourself a “Christian,” do you honestly and earnestly endeavor to live the teachings of Jesus Christ? Or do you employ a bastardized, White-centric faith as a cudgel to batter those not as “enlightened” as you?
Do you believe that God has no interest in partisan politics? Or are you convinced that God is a Republican and that those who don’t vote Republican are apostates who’ve left Christianity behind and worship at the altar of George Soros?
Does your faith inform and define your life? Or do you only think about your “belief” in Christianity on the Sunday mornings you manage to drag yourself out of bed in time to go to church?
Do you accept that humanity sees God in many different forms? Or are you convinced that the other 2999+ religions in the world are wrong and that yours is the one, true, and ONLY faith?
I spend a lot of time writing about politics, religious faith, and ideology, very often in terms of how people abuse them for their own benefit. I do that because it upsets me when I see someone bastardizing a perfectly good idea for their self-aggrandizement. I believe that people can be a force for good- and yet too often, too many give in to their darker angels and walk paths that promise to benefit only themselves.
Not that I’m not guilty of that from time to time. Lord knows I’m an imperfect human being who occasionally falls far short of the goals and expectations I have for myself. Ultimately, I can only control what I stand for and what I do, and I know that I need and want to do better.
I want to be someone who can distinguish good from evil. Unfortunately, as simplistic as that may sound, millions in America today are unable to make that fundamental distinction.
I want to be a kind and compassionate person. I believe I hit that mark more often than not, but I can do better. I can do a better job of assuming the best of those I come across during my day. I can work harder to believe that everyone is doing their best to get through life as best they can, even though it might not always look that way. This is perhaps my biggest challenge.
I can do a better job of reminding myself that politics, ideology, and religion are not the basic building blocks of life. They’re simply some of the things that may (or may not) be important to other people, most of whom don’t think, live, love, and/or believe as I do.
They’re just ideas, and ideas come and go, like the waves on the Mauian beach I’m enjoying as I’m writing this. Listening to the surf crashing rythymically into the rocks reminds that it’s one of the few things that lasts forever. We, along with all of our petty concerns and disputes, come and go.
So, again I ask a straightforward question:
WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR?
What do you want to stand for? Are you in a place where you can honestly say you stand for what you want to? If not- and I suspect that’s the honest answer for most of us- then what do you need to do to get to where you want to be?
When I ask the question: WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR? I don’t expect that anyone (myself included) will have a ready or pat answer. What I hope it will do is to set the reader to thinking. Perhaps it will create greater awareness for all of us as we go through our day. Maybe if we think about how we navigate our days, it will create situations where we can have more significant and more positive impacts.
Few of us are ever going to have the opportunity to change the world with a sledgehammer, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t start the process by nibbling at the margins with a rubber mallet.
So here’s a question I plan on asking the man looking back at me in the mirror this morning:
WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR?
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