Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, members of the so-called Generation X were the recipients of a comforting message: You are special, you can do anything you want, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You are special because you are unique. You can do anything you want because you have will power, and humans living in America have free will. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, because while sometimes people say or do things out of ignorance or jealousy or some other malicious influence, what you do is your decision and not anyone else’s.
There may be flaws to the message. One can only be told one is special so many times before one starts to wonder exactly how special one is, and draw one’s own conclusions. That can be bad. But most people are level-headed. Most of us were able to keep from thinking too mightily of ourselves (I think?).
One lesson I learned a long time ago that resonates this week for me is the responsibility that comes with being special (unique, as we all are) and being free (Americans living in a democratic, free society, as we all do). It’s a responsibility to ourselves, to be proud of who we are. Also, it is a responsibility to our free and democratic country where we reside, to participate in the political process. Does that sound a little weird? After all, freedom comes with rights… right? Don’t we have the right, being free citizens, to not participate in the political process?
The answer is yes, we absolutely have the right to not participate in the political process, but we do have the responsibility to participate, and do so actively.
Spare me one analogy. My mother is getting old, and lives alone. I have a responsibility, as I see it, to check on her, as she forgets things and does not get around well. I have a responsibility as her son to call her every now and then, and visit, to make sure she is ok. At some point, my mother will need me to help her move out of her home. It is my right, as an independent adult, to not worry about her, to ignore her, to let her wallow in her memory loss, occasional depression, and physical limitations on her own. But it is my responsibility to be aware of her condition, and help make decisions for her well-being.
Maybe spare me one more analogy. You’re sitting in the backseat of a car. The driver is swerving over the median, and visibly drunk. It is certainly your right to not do anything at all. But he’s your driver, he’s definitely erratic and out of control, and there are trees on the side of the road and other drivers in the oncoming lane. Shouldn’t you at least say something?
Politics is a word that makes some people wince, but it’s not the politics that carry the danger. It’s ignorance. It’s confrontation and poor communication. It’s bad listening. Cowardice. Arrogance. Intolerance. Disrespect. Politics are none of those things, but people display those flaws when they don’t know how to listen, to communicate, to participate in discourse with a respectful demeanor.
You definitely have a right to be apolitical, to avoid political discourse, to stay away from politics. But we have a responsibility to inform ourselves and participate. Part of informing ourselves is doing research, listening to what others have to say, and sharing our own opinions and perspectives. After all, we are special, and we are free to do as we please, and we should not let anyone discourage us from actively participating in the political process.