We Americans have a unique talent for narcissistic hyperbole. Every problem we face, every political statement or person we disagree with, seems to portend the end of the world, or at least the end of the American Way of Life as we know it. Regardless of color, creed, or political persuasion, this one thing unites us: I want to proudly do what I want to do without interference, but if you're allowed to do what you want, well, that's it: the world's gonna end. And I will loudly complain to anyone within earshot about your plans for world domination and/or destruction of my way of life until I run out of breath, in the hopes that they will join my revolution against the forces of darkness.
I'm tempted to say that this is a recent phenomenon brought about by the Clinton administration, but as that would just be another example of this problem, it feels a bit redundant. The fact is, we've been railing at each other since before we were a country, when the Whigs and the Tories were convinced that each was about to lead the other off a precipice and take the new world with them. If anything, we've gotten more polite about it, because no matter how much Rush Limbaugh's words may hurt, I have to think that having hot tar and chicken feathers poured over your naked body has to hurt a little bit more. I can always turn off the radio, after all.
Why do we expect the world to end whenever we don't get what we want? Are we still toddlers at heart, crying because Mommy wouldn't give us another lollipop? A quick look at history -- even recent history, if you're too lazy to scan more than a couple of decades -- shows that everything happens in cycles. Even my short lifetime has been marked by a steady pendulum of conservatism and liberalism, Republican and Democrat, for the past thirty-some years. LBJ gave way to Nixon and Ford, who gave way to Carter, who gave way to Reagan, et cetera, et cetera. Tick, tock; restrict, relax; tax, rebate; segregate, integrate. And life goes on, and the world doesn't end.
I applaud passion. I myself am passionate about many things: my family, my work, my faith. A seashore or a mountainside at sunset can bring tears to my eyes. But passion without reason is the fuel of mobs and the tool of unscrupulous demagogues. We need to look at our passions, our outrage, through the lens of history and realize three things:
- Our problems are no bigger than anyone else's have ever been: they're just ours.
- No one person or group has the power to irreparably break the world. It's too big and we're too small.
- Nothing is permanent, not even [insert your favorite bad-decision-made-by-someone-else here]. All things come to an end.
As the wise man said and the mop-topped singers reiterated: to everything there is a season, and if there is one constant about seasons, it's that they change. To paraphrase Mark Twain: if you don't like the political climate, wait four years and it will change. In the meantime, could you please stop yelling?Our lives are but a breath, and I for one choose not to waste that breath in an angry shout.