An essayist in a weekly magazine, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, characterizes the past year as exhibiting an uncommon penchant for laziness.
Congress, allegedly one of the least productive in history, heads the list. Our current crop of legislators have been excoriated for their inability to put partisan ideology aside in order to get something done – anything. Having been frequently among those disgusted with politics and politicians, the essay got me thinking about the virtues of thoughtful inactivity.
A few minutes ago, while wheeling in firewood from the woodshed, I remembered what a friend, a distinguished lawyer, once said: “There is too much law.”
Coming from someone steeped in the law on a daily basis and who from time to time wrote legislation for various state legislators, that has always struck me as a curious yet profound observation. That was many years ago. Imagine how much law is on the books now!
My politics are generally left of center, but not always. I try to be flexible and open to competing perspectives. Anyone hidebound enough to believe that he has all the right answers is a danger to himself and the rest of us. We often get so caught up in our own lives that we fail to give credence to alternative solutions to problems even though they make sense. We tend to see the “other,” either an individual or individuals, as failing to see the truth as we see it. Truth is often described as self-evident. Well, it might be in some cases, but not always. We are all guilty of averring that the truth of some matter be X when in fact for others it might easily be Y or Z depending on who they are, where they live, the platform of assumptions they have been raised upon, or simply a matter of temperament dictated by basic personality.
So, if the present Congress is indeed guilty of accomplishing very little, then perhaps it might be useful to think of the past year as a sort of respite from too much all the time rather than too little accomplished now. As the essay points out, laziness is not limited to Congress. For instance, most of us, me included, have been willing to decry our involvement in two ridiculous wars when having dinner with friends or when having chance conversations with friends in places like coffee shops or gym locker rooms. And been quite willing to leave it at that. Which, it seems to me, is a moral failing.
I do not think that I am alone in the moral failure department. As a country we have exhibited an extraordinary indifference to our government’s inexcusable taste for war. I am not a New Year’s resolution person, so I am not going to resolve to do anything in particular. That has never worked. It is sort of like the diets that I start every morning and never follow through on. But I will try to be not so lazy when it comes to doing something about those things that matter. Activism comes in many shapes and forms. We’ll see.
Nelson Mandela’s passing is perhaps a fortuitous reminder of what it is possible for each of us to accomplish. It must start from within. Overcoming personal laziness is the first step. It starts with taking stock of the self, perhaps devoting some time to reflection, honest reflection that dares to remove one’s ideological blinders. Once that happens a door opens to an infinity of options. Charity, if it is to have genuine value, must start at home. It then can radiate outward in innumerable ways.
I am not sure what our political landscape will look like as we edge our way into the new year. One hopes that its sinkholes and jagged peaks will smooth over, that our conversations with one another will undulate rather than be shaped by the sharp edges of acrimony. Ideological dogmatism that refuses to acknowledge another’s value or right to exist is a form of moral and intellectual irresponsibility. It is easy to cloak one’s self in the warm and fuzzy glow of one’s convictions. It can be pretty comfy. Comfort is not all it is cracked up to be.