I had an interesting online debate on Facebook with my niece tonight. It is just 48 hours before the US 2012 election will be decided and we ‘got into it’ about the issue of race and the Republican party. I made a claim about the racial composition of the crowds behind Romney in his speeches not reflecting the demographic mix of the US because of the Republican Party’s heavy bias to ‘white American’. My niece took offense. She challenged me that bringing race into the issue was ‘cheap and weakminded’. She claimed it was not about race. She is so right and so wrong at the same time. It is sad that, in her naivete, she can’t even see how race is so much a part of the party she supports.
It shouldn’t be about race. In 2012 we should (I have issues with that word) be beyond that. But we are not. I can recall in 2008 a staunch Republican I know as saying “I can’t believe we let that black monkey win the election”. These thoughts and feeling run deep in the Republican party – especially in the South. I hear echoes of them still in some of comments of my business friends (who tend to be more politically correct publicly but not so much privately) but even more so in the social media comments (which are not censored at all and therefore more representative of the true thoughts/feelings of the community) around the campaign.
For better or for worse I’m actually not that bugged about the race issue – it feels to me like it is working itself out and will eventually become a non-issue. I find that I’m generally color-blind; I don’t care very much the race or creed of anyone. I see this same trait in many people I know. At some low level ‘race’ probably affects my thinking but for the most part I try (and mostly succeed) to treat people as people.
What bothers me about Romney and the current iteration of the business people in the Republican Party is that they seem to have forgotten the contribution to their wealth and success of the people who work for them and who buy their products and services. They are quick to laud their own accomplishments and denigrate the ‘47%’ whom they rely on for their success. These people are generally considered ‘not like them’ in race or in socio-economic status and are therefore, less valuable. I find this reprehensible.
The debate with my niece helped me articulate my beliefs and why I’m opposed to the Republican Party and their leader. I believe that the best of humankind comes forward when individuals have the right and the opportunity to improve their position in the world through their intelligence and hard work. Some come by success easily through luck or family connections. Some of us work much harder than others and in many cases take risks and sacrifice tremendously to achieve our success. That is our choice and, if the world is at all fair, we probably should be rewarded for our extra effort.
However, regardless of how we achieve our success, in my world view, we are OBLIGATED to use our position of power to help others. This concept is called noblesse oblige and, I’ve discovered, is hugely important to me. It governs how I treat my team, how I treat my peers, my customers, my suppliers, my business partners and even how I treat the street people I meet every day in Gastown near our office. I care what happens to them and the success they have in life because, in my opinion, it MASSIVELY affects my future.
We can debate the direct impact the success of these individuals has on my life. What is harder to debate is the fact that, if these people in the microcosm, and by extension, everyone like them in the macrocosm, are not successful, eventually, my life, the life of my family, the life of my peers, the life of my community and the life of the planet will be compromised. If 7 billion people (less 1%) have a bad experience of life, the potential for unrest and trouble and disruption for the remaining 1% is very high. Even a small percentage of these people saying ‘me, first’ to try to achieve Western ideals of success will have disastrous effects on our environment and our society.
At first this may seem like a huge stretch but if I walk you through all the steps of thinking about it, it is very hard to see how the outcome I suggest in not only possible, it is probable. For me to know that in the end I will be most successful, the holistic result I need to strive to create is for as many people to be successful (by their definition) as possible.
This thinking requires WAY more thinking about and valuing long term results more than short term results and is why most people avoid it. In our ADD, instant gratification society, we tend to go for the quick fix as opposed to choosing the path that gives us better results in the long run.
If I had one wish, it wouldn’t be to end world hunger. It would be for everyone to be able to see the long term consequences of their decisions and therefore actions and to thereby chose more wisely. If I was granted this wish we’d see the end of world hunger and many of the other major issues we face right now within a generation and perhaps much less. This is the antithesis of ‘me, first‘ thinking because it focuses on the best result, not the most immediate result.
I think the Republican party stands, at its heart, for ‘me, first‘. In my opinion that is a path to the destruction of the very thing they hold dear (their safety and security) and I sincerely hope that they lose not only this election but every other election as well. At least, until they change their mind and show they care more about their community and the world than their own interests.
Noblisse Oblige is a high ideal and takes personal integrity and courage to live by. I know they can do it if only they’d try.
The Family Politics part of this is that my brother and his family moved to Texas from Canada many years ago. Recently his daughter (my niece) has graduated high school/college, left home, is working in a hospital and has got engaged to be married. Since her engagement to a man from a 1% family she has become stridently Republican and spouts party rhetoric frequently. Her bashing of Obama’s socialized medicine policies has been particularly irritating to her extended family in Canada because she possibly wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for the social medicine policies she so vociferously denounces. I hope she will ignore the influence of her surroundings, take a real, unbiased look at the issues in front of her, see the long term negative implications of her actions in supporting Romney and act accordingly on election day.
It is unlikely this will happen but, as part of my belief system, I MUST have faith that people will rise to the occasion at least some of the time.
In the meantime, I need to take her thoughts and beliefs as a test of my own convictions and use them to help me understand (and perhaps change) what I fundamentally believe about these issues and more broadly about life. Any time I get an opportunity like this I’m thankful for it.