“I can be someone’s and still my own.” — Shel Silverstein
Those of you that know me know I’ve used that quote before. It is one of my personal favorites. At a certain point, we get to an age where things get to us more easily. I read that story every year to teenagers when they prepare for Confirmation. I get choked up every time I read it.
I know a lot of people that have new year’s resolutions at the ready on the first. It takes me awhile. All of this came into focus when I perused twitter and encountered yet another of those patented “I don’t understand how you could vote for…” and it occurred me that we are hearing this more and more often these days.
The obvious point is that it shuts down our collective discourse. It puts us into one side or another and determined that the other side is just a group of village idiots. So, my new year’s resolution is to raise my level of discourse. I will certainly still challenge individual members of the herd. It’s hard to avoid doing that these days, but I will do my red letter best to avoid transferring that to a whole ideology.
This brings me back to Silverstein. The line above obviously is directly related to the story it came from (“The Missing Piece”) but it is one of those rare lines that can stand on its own. As a writer I’m jealous. All of us want one of those lines at least once in our life. There was a time when I thought I could be a speech writer. Occasionally, my writing drifts that direction and when I read lines like that it stirs me to try again.
America is a unique place. It always has been. It combines the mythos of rugged individualism with a community feel where we do what we can to help each other get along. We can be someone else’s and be our own at the same time. So, our body politic must tow the line between a collectivism the rest of the world embraces and an individualism that numerous tout.
When we dial away party politics we get to a point where we each have our own personal take on where that balance rests. There used to be a day when Democrats and Republicans could set aside differences and meet in the middle of particular issues. I suppose it still happens under the rarest of circumstances. It is the ultimate difference between statespeople and performance artists.
Obviously, I’m just a teacher so my thoughts and words have little to do with what actually happens in government. However, it can impact what happens in my little corner of the world. It can impact my personal relationships. It can impact the level of angst I feel on a daily basis or my level of optimism for the future.
I can be my own and someone else’s at the same time. I can manage my own happiness and practice a certain level of autonomy while allowing others to help me whenever I need assistance. I can be that helping hand to others when they need emotional or physical support. We can collectively be our own and each other’s at the same time. We can remember that our own personal belief of where we stand on that continuum between collectivism and individuality does not define us as a human being. Our humanity must exist beyond that and so we cannot allow ourselves to get bogged down in the “I can’t understand how you can vote for….”
The disappointing thing is that we know we will. I know those words will leave my lips or get typed out on my screen. I know this. Ultimately, new year’s resolutions have to be aspiratational. We know we likely won’t reach those goals, but we have to try. We have to try to do better.