Caring as "pejorative"? This has to be rock bottom.
Recent reports indicate that the president does not want his name on the GOP healthcare plan. I'm not surprised, and neither should you be, for several reasons: (1) it's a cruel plan*; (2) even conservatives don't like it; (3) it's destined for an ugly fight; and (4) being attached to controversial legislation is a political stain that lasts. However, this excerpt from Politico, tucked amid their analysis, is genuinely disturbing:
“Pretty much anything with the pejorative suffix on it — ‘care’ — is going to be viewed unfavorably by conservatives,” said former longtime Mitt Romney spokesman Ryan Williams, who was with the Massachusetts governor when he signed Romneycare. Romney had hoped to tout it in his 2008 presidential campaign, and he campaigned on a promise to repeal Obamacare in 2012. “Anything with the word ‘care’ in it pretty much sounds bad to people these days,” Williams said.
This has to be Washington's rock bottom.
I understand exactly what Williams intended with this statement, and I don't judge him for saying it. Politico doesn't report on Williams's moral assessment of the situation, so we can't assume that he doesn't also mourn this sorry state of affairs. I'm not asking you to rain righteous anger on Williams for calling it like it is.
However, I am asking you to recognize that this situation is completely, absolutely, 100% fucked up. We are living in a political reality in which caring - CARING! - is "pejorative" and "pretty much sounds bad to people these days." That is utter madness, and I hope it sends a chill down every one of your spines too.
I'm horrified, and I call on each of you - as citizens of conscience - to be horrified as well. Our problem isn't caring, but the lack of it. Our problem is a troubling dearth of compassion and empathy in American corridors of power. THIS IS NOT NORMAL, or it certainly shouldn't be.
So, what are we going to do about this?
In the political realm, we need to start paying more attention to caring - and naming it when we see it (or don't). We should expect compassion from our representatives, as much as and perhaps more than we expect any particular execution of governance. Here's how to begin doing that:
- Envision a new political reality in which caring is a virtue. Discuss it with your families, friends, colleagues, and activist networks. What are we working for? What does a compassionate society look like, tangibly and in your communities? What are the hallmarks?
- Vet your political reps for caring. Are they rolling over for the bullshit narrative that "care" is something to distance themselves from? Or, are they showing the political courage to lean into compassion? Encourage them accordingly.
And, most importantly, understand that political compassion (or the lack of) is an outgrowth of our society's ethos.
By addressing deep cultural factors, we initiate a slow, but lasting burn.
Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes. We cannot generate political compassion without profound changes to ourselves and our culture. However, the good news is that we can influence the macro situation by developing compassion at the micro level: in our homes, our neighborhoods, our schools, our workplaces, and our various communities. To this end, I suggest the following:
- Find your way into actions that support a discipline of compassion, such as volunteer work, spiritual practices, professional empathy, and intentional family life. It all starts here.
- Identify your heroes. Who models compassion for you? What compassionate things do they do, specifically? What are they saying, writing, and reading? For inspiration, here are some of the well-known folks on my list (in no particular order): Dorothy Day, Pope Francis, Thich Nhat Hanh, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesus Christ, Temple Grandin, and Albert Einstein.
- Examine your roles. Are you a parent, sibling, friend, boss, teacher, volunteer, industry leader, colleague, student, mentor? Something else entirely? Figure out how you will work compassion into each of your roles, what obstacles you might encounter, and how you will ensure that caring prevails. Be specific and concrete so you recognize those moments when they arrive. You won't always have time to analyze on the fly, so get ready now.
- Lead by example. This is especially important if you are working with or raising children, and if you have significant authority in your roles.
- Make it radical. Push yourself to extend compassion beyond the boundaries that tend to creep up on us. In our highly charged political environment, compassion across party lines is an obvious starting point. Implicit bias testing is another. Or, start closer to home, with the neighbor or family member who drives you up a wall.
- Forgive yourself, and repeat. Nobody is perfect. Just keep at it.
What are your ideas for generating compassion in American politics, American culture, or both? I would love to hear from you.
* Yes, that is my liberal opinion. Please keep reading.