January 26, 2012

Invite a politician to dinner…

Posted in Between Us column, Diversity, Politics, Relationships at 10:21 pm by dinaheng

If you’re sitting around the dinner table with family when an argument breaks out, you may or may not speak up, depending on how often you were told to be quiet as a child. Ditto for sitting around that conference table at work and speaking up if you disagree with the boss.

When it comes to politics, there’s no escaping it. Every family has power dynamics. In every office and work setting, the most powerful people are the ones who speak up. Whether their thought is worth hearing is neither here nor there. In corporate America, if you don’t speak up for yourself, you’re nobody.

Watching the Republican debates is a bit like watching the conversation at the dinner table. One candidate may be very intellectual in his reasoning. Another may tap into emotional intelligence. Another may have neither brain nor sensitivity, but knows how to blow with the wind and fan the flames of fear.

You may not agree with any of them, but you have to bless them for being brave enough to be a politician in this partisan age. Same goes for President Obama. Whether or not you agree with his political decisions, he was strong enough to make some tough  choices and quit smoking at the same time.

The problem with most debates is that people aren’t hearing what candidates truly think  because politicians are too afraid to trust that what they actually believe will get them elected. So they say what they think people most want to hear. And let’s face it — most of us want to hear different things.

When did we become so angry as a nation that all we can do is demonize those who don’t agree with us? Yes, the economy has a lot to do with it. If you’re losing your retirement savings or watching your middle class income shrink while those at the top of the heap continue to get bigger tax breaks and more money, it’s impossible to stay silent at the dinner table.

But we have to do more than shout our anger. We have to elect people who actually know how to govern… meaning, we have to put people in office who will look out for everyone’s interest, not just those who made campaign contributions to them. People who will be strong enough to shame us when we are unwilling to sacrifice for the greater good. People who are caring enough to inspire us all to be better human beings.

We need politicians who are smart enough to know how to forge relationships, make compromises, and teach the country that we are ONE nation under God, not mini-fiefdoms that look out only for their own needs.

A friend who volunteers to read to disadvantaged school children in an after-school program told me a story recently about how far we’ve strayed from remembering what’s important.

She said, “I started to read to this little girl when she asked me, ‘Do you have anything to eat? I haven’t eaten since yesterday. My heart broke because she started looking around the room, looking for some food to eat, and there was none.”

We can debate the state of the economy all we want, but isn’t it time we pulled together at the dinner table? Tell the politicians that it’s time to stop worrying about who has a seat at the table. Work together to make the table bigger, so that everyone truly has a place to sit, and enough to eat.

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