Did you hear the news?
Norman Vincent Peale, author of The Power of Positive Thinking, once observed, “Repetition of the same thought or physical action develops into a habit which, repeated frequently enough, becomes an automatic reflex”.
Linking this to how we might apply it to our psychological health, my fear is that through repetition in the political sphere, we are beginning to turn severity and lack of compassion into an automatic reflex in public policy. This thought occurred to me when I muttered to myself, “Here we go again” throughout the month of June as a stream of legislation flowed forth from Washington D.C. that has potentially devastating consequences for the poor, the disenfranchised, the marginalized, and the most vulnerable in society.
Just this past week, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the ban to go into effect for foreign nationals who lack any “bona fide relationship with any person or entity in the United States.” The Senate put forth The Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 which proposes to scale back funding that goes toward health coverage for low-income Americans and tax credits for middle-income earners who purchase their own health insurance. This senate bill comes months after the House first put out their version called the American Health Care Act 2017 which caused major outcry across the nation and that even the President has called “mean.” Just this morning debates are raging over Kate’s Law and the “No Sanctuary for Criminals”, draconian bills targeting immigrants. As many of our legislators seem determined to institutionalize a kind of mean-spiritedness, we must make every effort not to let the repetition numb us to the essential nature of the rhetoric, developing the fortitude to resist the temptation to accept this state of being as the status quo.
There is much pain and heartache at the individual, community, and societal level that those of us who are American patriots must be strong on behalf of vulnerable others and take up the good fight for what is right, for as the diplomat James Bryce said, “Patriotism consists not in waving the flag, but in striving that our country shall be righteous as well as strong”. When we are comfortable, when detrimental change affects others, when we see injustice at a distance, it is often difficult to maintain the sort of sustained compassion, empathy, and will to action as when we ourselves are directly involved. I was starkly reminded of this when I went house hunting in Los Angeles this weekend.
I have been looking for a home in South Los Angeles in earnest since February, trying extremely hard to find a house in the community that we serve. This weekend, I went to look at one property in particular that proved to be especially heartbreaking. It was a large boarding house in which each room was rented by different families. In one tiny room, smaller than my work office there were two adults and a baby. They were all about to be thrown out if someone purchased the home. Where would these individuals and families go?
Seeing these living conditions reminded me of what my son had mentioned a few weeks earlier in our house search when we kept asking him which house he preferred. We noted that maybe one room would be bigger than the other for him. He shrugged and noted that he didn’t care. Perplexed I asked him why. He answered that at least he got a room. I was so proud and sad at the same time, as it exhibited a thankfulness for what he had and an understanding that others lived daily in much harsher circumstances. If I can boast for a second, my son got a “most amazing friend” award at school and as such he motivates me to keep doing what I can to help our community–to be a friend for the community, and a friend in the determined sense of standing up for what is right, speaking truth to those we seek to help, as well as those in power.
I cannot emphasize enough how we must keep dignity at the forefront of our consciousness and compassion in our interactions with others. Treating others as we would wish to be treated ourselves, if we found ourselves at the mercy of social and political forces. As punitive and compassionless rhetoric and legislation fills the airwaves, we must not let its repetition inure us to our responsibilities to our fellow human beings. Politicians play politics and claim they are simply adhering to their principles, even if people suffer, but as Catch-22 author Joseph Heller admonished, sometimes one has to “rise above principle and do what’s right”.