No matter where you lie on the political spectrum – far left, far right, or somewhere in between – most Americans can acknowledge that we are in a time of great political unrest. Some may deny this, commenting that they are “perfectly fine with how things are,” and have “never been happier” with our political situation.
Google Dictionary defines unrest as “a state of dissatisfaction, disturbance, and agitation in a group of people, typically involving public demonstrations or disorder.” While not every member of our nation feels ‘agitated,’ it is hard to dispute the reality that there is, indeed, a sizable ‘group’ of the population that are ‘dissatisfied’ with the current government. We live in a day where ‘demonstrations’ taking the form of protests and marches fill our screens, and uncivil statements made by news anchors, colleagues, and neighbors fill our ears. With a rapidly growing lack of respect for people’s freedom to hold their own beliefs without scorn or reproach from someone they know, it is no coincidence that Merriam-Webster’s first example of unrest used in a sentence is “the country has experienced years of civil unrest”.
In a time where news stations have become all-out war zones and not even family reunions are safe-spaces, it is very easy to lose sight of optimism. Many people look at a time like this and say, “What could possibly be worse?” You have a once “trusted” friend who, after an election, has become your greatest “enemy” and critic. People in the government have been fired left and right, and the incessant arguing as to whether it was “the best thing” or “the worst thing” seems to follow you wherever you go. People are afraid to say whom they voted for, fearing that someone in their midst will see their beliefs as the work of pure evil.
So why bother? I have talked to many people lately who have told me that incivility, specifically in our news sector, has kept them from paying attention to the news at all. They would rather be kept in the dark from national news than know what is really occurring in our current political atmosphere. They would rather remain in blissful ignorance than feel victimized by their own TVs.
Our democracy is meant to be an inclusive process, something that truly takes all input into account as building blocks to make the United States into the best nation it can be. It is not meant to be the source of great divide, a series of coinciding cleavages that divide issue, after issue into separate channels that alienate entire sectors of our country.
All of this chaos and negative energy sadly commits more people to the “glass half empty club” day by day. People are more frequently asking and telling themselves hopeless utterings such as,
“Will things ever get better?”
“What has this country come to?”
“There is no hope.”
“My vote does not count.”
“Why even care about what is going on?”
Throughout history, there has always been one thing that saved us from our demise: hope. Hope isn’t just willing or thinking there is a possibility that things can get better. Hope is trudging down that tunnel when you don’t see a light at the end, when you don’t even know if there is an end.
If we all waited until the light at the end of our tunnel became visible, for our north star or our omen to show us that we were on the brink of something good, we would never be where we are today. Some of the greatest feats to be overcome in our history, such as African American rights, were all as a result of blind hope. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for example, still looked ahead towards a brighter and better future, even when things seemed bleak. When there was no hope, he created hope. When there was not a good future in sight, he willed there to be one.
I use Dr. King as an example for a specific reason. He held another quality that set him apart and made him successful: his civility. One thing that revolutionized Dr. King’s movement towards equality was his methodology. In a time of violence and war, Dr. King led the movement of peaceful protests. His silent sit-ins spoke many more words than one loud or patronizing statement could have ever made. In a time when things were far from civil, Dr. King discovered the large and crucial cooperation between productivity and civility.
Growing up, many people probably heard their moms mutter a thousand times “kill ‘em with kindness.” As a child, and even sometimes as an adult, such words seem dumb or simply untrue. In a moment of debate, it seems much easier and more productive to attack the other side with a low blow and hit them where it hurts. This is the world we live in. People have grown far too comfortable disrespectfully slandering their foe to delegitimize their claims. What these people don’t realize is that in doing so, their own claims lose legitimacy. While they may have a very viable solution to a very important problem, no amount of sweet-talking can cover up and restore the trust of constituencies into their lawmakers if they have seen them act uncivilly to another human being.
The future truly does lie in civility. If we hope to create a brighter and more efficient political future for later generations and ourselves, just as our founding fathers so desired, then we must posses two qualities: hope and civility.
First, we have to believe it can happen. I know it’s very easy to write off a problem policymakers are debating. You can lose hope thinking that “there is no plausible way to fix this!” Maybe you feel that “the true bad effects of this problem will be long after I’m gone, so why does it matter?” If we just believe that when there is a will to fix a problem then there is a way solve it, we have successfully achieved the first step towards becoming more optimistic.
Secondly, you have to vote. I know this – somewhat – goes hand-in-hand with hope; your vote wouldn’t be truly authentic, if you didn’t hope or believe that one of the propositions could be a viable way to solve a problem. You also have to know that your vote counts. This can also be a hard thing to accept. How could your one, teeny-tiny vote possibly count or make a difference in a pool of millions if you are the only one that really cares about solving the problem and not just fulfilling a role on a partisan team? Just imagine a world in which every person truly believed that change was possible; each of those votes would be quite small, but together, they could make a tidal wave of difference.
Lastly, proceed with civility. There is no doubt we live in a world that constantly turns to violence over peace and incivility over civility. However, if there is anything our great leaders of change have shown us, it is that we are stronger together and stronger when we are kind. Incivility drives wedges through our society that truly keeps us from achieving our full potential. It prevents us from having an open mind to all ideas, maybe even the one that just may be the very change needed to make our world a better place.
The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.
~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.