From earliest memory, I was taught to think things through. I learned that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. I knew that my actions, whatever they might be, would have consequences. Sometimes positive and sometimes negative. That was up to me and the choices I made. That was why the whole thinking things through part were important. It wasn’t called free thinking or critical thinking back then. It was simply called common sense. So what happened to that? Why is it no longer cool to have independent thought? To think through an issue and nurture the ability to come to one’s own conclusions? When did it become acceptable, even trendy, to just erupt and then excuse outrageous behavior by claiming that one is just passionate about something or another? When did thinking for oneself take a backseat to blindly following the crowd? When did being intellectually lazy start being just fine as long as one supports the “right” causes and spouts the politically correct speech?
Our very humanity allows us a great capacity for deep and profound thought. It also gives us an abundance of emotion and an unfathomable range of them. The problem is, that we all too often choose to dwell in one realm or the other: the rational, analytical mind or the emotional, feeling mind. Hence, we have the lack of understanding and balance that allows us to communicate effectively or comprehend thoroughly when too much information is thrown at us. This is why hot topics that affect both our emotions and our thought processes, like religion and politics, become heated and controversial and attract blind followers or truth deniers. At some point, we may either employ our thoughts to match our emotions because they are so strong, or simply abandon thought and allow emotion to rule. I believe this is what has happened, on both sides, during the campaigns and now, in its aftermath.
When an emotion such as the feeling of betrayal, which the American people, whether conservative or liberal, have felt towards government is present, it is difficult to think through…only to feel. We have felt unheard, abandoned and ignored by the Washington Elites who have taxed us, spent our money, taken our young men to war, disregarded our calls for help and left us bereft of the America we once knew. Many of us tried, as a nation to think our way out of these feelings. We “thought” we could hold on for a few more years. We “thought” that Obama wasn’t really as progressive as he was and would work with Congress. We “thought” we could come back and rebuild the exceptionalism that was so diminished. And then, worst of all, we apparently “thought”that Trump would be the guy to do that.
If we look back to the “rock star” campaign of Barack Obama, we can begin to break down where our national mentality began its decline. We abandoned warnings and facts and critical thinking to emotional attachment and lofty speeches and, in Chris Matthews’ case, “tingling up ‘our’ legs” as confirmation that this was THE guy. The one who would right all the wrongs, perceived or real, of George W. Bush. Mr. Obama became the great hope of a new American revival. There was a lot said about hope. And change. There were very few discussions about what we hoped those changes would be. And when thinking people brought up concerns like Jeremiah Wright or, then Senator Obama’s lack of experience, Hope and Change were just yelled out a little louder to drown out the pesky truths. Thus we have a far more progressively liberal agenda than a majority of Americans desire. This is what national right track/wrong track polls and surveys have been telling us for the last five plus years. We, as a nation, don’t like what President Obama has done to our country. But, it’s still cool to like him. And still uncool to criticize him in any way. Because, racism.
Enter the Donald. Not only did the American people again lose their ability to think, many have gone to extremes on both sides. Trump is an emotional figure. This election was a passionate vote either FOR or AGAINST Donald Trump. It is no wonder that Hillary Clinton lost. She was really not even in the equation. There was very little if any emotion for her and those that were against her were mostly apathetic and downtrodden…stuck in their sea of betrayal by all that the Clintons represented. So, two things happened. First, Mr. Trump began to appeal to those who had spent up anger…possibly stuffed down from the last eight years of frustration with President Obama. Among those are the most despicable in our midst-the white supremacists and racists. They have been biding their time, waiting for someone with whom they could align their hatred and prejudice and bigotry.
They saw that in Trump and they attached themselves to him like super strength Velcro. Then, those that only listen to right-wing radio and Fox news began to hear Trump’s message about terrorist refugees and Mexican rapists and murderers. Fearful voters, who have been afraid of the hate filled rhetoric of Reverand Wright and his ilk felt threatened by the terrorist attacks in San Bernadine and Orlando and so many other places, wanted to believe that it would all stop. Because Trump said it would…if we elected him. People believed his politically incorrect diatribes about Muslims and Mexicans. They believed his slogan, that making America great again, meant that he would regain balance and stop our progressive slide into socialism. Because they heard what they wanted to hear. They saw what they wanted to see. They believed what they so desperately needed to believe. Just like they did with Barack Obama in 2008. Only this time the pendulum has swung completely the opposite way. A completely different type of threat to our freedoms.
Because blindly following the emotional crowd is easy. Because thinking takes time and effort.
This is true to some degree, if we’re honest, to the outrage and unrest we are witnessing in the protests of the President Elect. It is easy to throw blame. It is easy to follow one’s emotions and allow them to dictate our actions and reactions. Especially in an environment where hope and change turned out to be, for many, betrayal and distrust. Strong emotions like fear, anger, insecurity…these can overwhelm us and rule us and they are heightened exponentially when mob mindset begins to rule. Peer pressure, the trendsetters, those in the know, the leaders of the pack…they use these emotions and the media to fuel the agenda they wish to achieve. It happened with Obama’s election, and to those who hated him and tried to have him removed from office. For not being American born. For being a Muslim plant. Etc, etc…blah, blah, blah. It happened with Trump’s election. It is happening now with people trying to sway electoral college voters. With conspiracy theories. Granted, Trump is doing all the wrong things and I personally have as much or more fear for the direction he will take our country than I did when Obama became our Commander-in-Chief.
However, it is our own fault. We voted for him. And when I say “WE,” I mean it. If you allowed him to be our nominee because you forgot to think about what the consequences of that might be, you voted for Trump. If you had selected a candidate that was honest and truthful instead of a secretive liar like Hillary Clinton, you voted for Trump. If you didn’t show up and make your voice heard on November 8th, you voted for Trump. If you didn’t bother to get involved and think about our freedoms, our liberty, our safety, our way of life because it was too much work. Because it was easier to follow the crowd…whichever side that might have been. Then you voted for Trump.
This could have been avoided. All of it. There is a sweet spot in our minds. It is the middle path between rational, analytical mind and emotional, feeling mind. It is the balance of thought and emotion and where reason and compassion reside. It is called wise mind. It is where topics can be discussed and debated without screaming pundits dictating one’s responses or so-called hidden agendas. It is a safe place where differing ideas are accepted as just different and not wrong and people don’t riot in the streets over them. It is a place where it is OK to think and feel apart from the crowd, by yourself and for yourself. To be able to stand for your faith and values and ideas. It’s the place where adulting is achieved. Mark Twain said,
“Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you would have rather talked.”
It takes practice and is essential to function sanely in an ever increasingly insane world. And, I’m terribly afraid that it is becoming a lost skill. Wisdom does not come with age or with trials. It is not achieved by gift or granted by God. It is earned through listening and learning and doing and knowing. It is a silent strength won by a noisy mind. And in the end, it is long past due in our leaders, our media and, mostly, ourselves. We need to make wisdom, or at least thinking for oneself, cool again.