A Broken System

Why do two back-to-back political conventions leave us so exhausted, so doubtful that their gushing enthusiasms amounted to anything more than fantasy? How can we believe strident claims, from each side, that only they can fix a broken system with mistaken values—when all we were given was talk, and more talk?

Most of us have our preferences for one party platform over another, but the exhausted distrust of all political promises runs very deep. Asking why such deeply-ingrained distrust is so pervasive, I find several answers coming to the fore. A top ten chart of reasons could include: money in politics, a broken criminal justice system, and that semi-automatic weapons are more easily obtained than health care . . .

But even in compiling such a list, I glimpse my own left-leaning bias peeking out. And, in today’s polarized climate, we don’t need yet another one-sided perspective presented with fervor.

Let me try a different tack through the howling winds that are blowing across our times.

I think that what I find most disheartening in the aftermath of two weeks of political certainties is the realization that words, on their own, cannot build a bridge between the vision they claim to enshrine and the actions they assert will ensue.

Hopeful or hateful, optimistic or fearful, it’s all just words. How can we be confident that those words are rooted in honest caring and understanding or that they will be backed up by enough courage to overcome deeply embedded forces that are devoted to the way things are?

Leaving aside the issue of whether either party will have an opportunity to implement their platform, can we trust the exuberant pronouncements of political speech?

In the Buddhist “Noble Eightfold Path”: “speech” provides a bridge between ‘vision” and “action”. But we are all familiar with speech that knows little of the kind of vision that is capable of inspiring real transformation.

More is needed than empty words in order to change the course of the deep imbalances in our society. The language of political campaigns may just further diminish the prospect that speech can ever be trusted to sponsor positive change in our world.

Vision is born in silence but speech can give voice to that vision in our world.

If our actions are to remain true to the wisdom that inspires them, we must remember that language is a bridge designed to link understanding with behavior.

When three bricklayers were asked what they were doing, one answered: “I’m laying bricks”, another answered “I’m building a wall” and the third replied “I’m building a cathedral”.

Three different visions animated their similar activities. But they were all working modestly at something real. They weren’t boasting how they were the only ones who could save the world. Neither were they disclaiming how great this country already is–while a few blocks away, in “the city of brotherly love”, poverty and suffering prevailed.

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