Guy Fawkes day AND Election Day. What an opportunity for middle-aged armchair rebels like myself to pause and reflect upon our citizenhood. The world has a multitude of problems, many of them thorny enough to have resisted resolution for thousands of years, but the fact that we are still able to raise our collective voices without violence to clamor for a solution is, in my opinion, a strong argument for there being a persistent streak of sanity that runs deep within our species.
As many of us will hasten to point out, people do have a distinct tendency to act badly, especially in groups. We are often driven by fear and greed to do things which harm each other, and we are masters of cloaking those motivations behind flimsy but seamless rationalizations. Given the encouragement of a like-minded cohort, we find ourselves capable of appalling acts of heartlessness and even more appalling lies to cover them up. Given the innate ability of the powerful to destroy the powerless, it’s pretty much a miracle that there are any of us left at all.
And yet we struggle on, in a world which despite the predations of the wicked has retained a full measure of joy, devotion, selflessness, beauty, truth and love. The sunrise can still stop us dead in our tracks. A baby’s smile can still tug at an old woman’s heartstrings and young lovers still stumble about, blissfully lost in each other’s eyes. Some rich people even give away their wealth to support the poor, although almost never as often or as generously as America’s favorite risen Savior recommended. We still care about one another, engage in our communities, weep for the dead, work for our families and dream of a world in which kindness and compassion co-exist with abundance and justice for all.
Is the cruelty of man to his fellow man still unbearable? Of course it is. Yet in all the years that we have predicted the downfall of our erratic, unhappy, self-absorbed delusional race we have always survived. The path of our hellbound spiral keeps getting re-directed, lured by some deep, irresistible urge to what is good and useful, even if it is beyond our grasp. Are we getting any better? As a group, I think not. We are too much creatures of instinct, and most of our instincts are too animalistic and short-term to serve the creation of a nobler, better world. Individually, however, where temperament and culture and grace combine in just the right proportions, we are capable of wisdom beyond anything any society has ever been able to capture. This capacity is what has kept our collective soul alive and kicking through the storms of history, and what gives us hope when our power to self-destruct becomes first equal to and then greater than our power to restrain ourselves. This capacity is what we are meant to nurture, both in ourselves and in our politics. When we are all equally free to develop and exercise that capacity, then the blundering passion of Guy Fawkes and the lumbering awkwardness of our Republic will not have been in vain.
©Mary Braden 2013