Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Humility - Is it Possible Anymore?

020/365 united we stand...
020/365 united we stand... (Photo credit: Joits)
There's been a big pause since my last post.  It's been a busy time for me at my job and quite honestly,  I  wasn't sure what to write about the election. It was the only thing on my mind for awhile but I didn't know how to talk about it here. Now that the ballots are counted though, I do have two thoughts that keep swirling in my head - humility and concern.

Obama and Romney were in a near tie for the popular vote.  Even in the most Republican or most Democrat controlled outposts there was still a respectable contingent voting for the opposing party. (Yes, Virginia, there are Republicans in Chicago.) In theory, whomever wins an election will be making decisions based on the needs of people who voted for and against them. Our leaders may get financed by a specific party but when they arrive in office they are the public servant for everyone. Right?  That's what we say.

Public service to a whole country or state requires genuine concern. True public servants ask questions about what the people need.  The concern, if pursued, demands humility, the deep understanding that none of us knows it all. Is humility possible anymore? Humility requires that we listen to the experiences of others to better inform our limited experiences. 

I've always lived in urban areas and in my circle of friends, growing up, were people who had been injured on their jobs in the Gary steel mills.  Government controls like the Environmental Protection Agency or OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) were just "givens" in my mind.  Everything those agencies did was necessary and important and valued, in my experience.  I was taken aback when I visited rural New York and talked with folks who were small business owners.  They were struggling to absorb the expensive testing and safe disposal fees for their auto body shop.  The same laws that protected one set of my friends were bankrupting others.  I still felt that workplace safety was important but now I better understood the financial impact of those policies and how the issues were so much more complicated.
I hear alot about the need to cut the deficit and have family members who are frustrated about the amount of government supports for the poor. In my own job however, I work with an organization serving the homeless.  I know that ignoring the needs of the poor, regardless of your value system, is expensive to society.  Homeless prevention funding has been reduced dramatically and yet $3,000 in prevention costs, money that keeps a family from ever becoming homeless, can save the community up to $50,000.  Cutting the budget in the area of social services often means more people incurring expensive emergency room care, police costs, and prison expenses for the taxpayers.

The issues are always like this - complex, nuanced, and not served very well by hyperbole and name calling.
The time for sound bites is over for now.  We need to move our conversations to a more productive and less condemning place.  With a little bit of humility and the willingness to listen to another's perspective, we might just have a chance to talk about solutions instead of blame. We might be able to improve our problems a small fraction instead of worrying about being 100% "right".  We need to practice that lost art of conversation and teach the kids in our life about it as well.  If we do, maybe we'll raise a few future public servants that actually know how to think about all of us.
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  1. What an important and insightful point, eltee. I actually thought Obama was showing some humility in the first debate. Unfortunately, that's also when he was slammed for not being aggressive enough. Still, like you, I'm glad all the campaigning and mudslinging is over (for now). You're right that most issues are complex and need to be thoughtfully discussed-- which includes listening to all points of view.

    p.s. I'm glad you're back!

    1. Thanks Jennifer. Staying with the writing is harder than I thought. I still enjoy the challenge of organizing my thoughts.

  2. Hi Eltee,
    I too had trouble posting during the election. It felt trivial to write about turnips with so much on the line politically. What a relief since it's been over, to look elsewhere, especially inward, for motivation/inspiration.

    I agree that, as a nation, we need to better serve the complexity of our current challenges. I don't know that masses of people have ever been good at seeing multiple sides of any give issue, but how ironic that 24-hour news has succeeded in worsening that tendency, oversimplifying everything despite having all day to explore the intricacies of of an issue!