Archive for the ‘Columns’ Category

410. Divide And Conquer

I recently received an interesting fortune cookie at a Chinese restaurant.  It reads “It’s doing good with what you’ve got that lights the morning star.”

“Doing good with what you’ve got” reminds me of what Teddy Roosevelt told a group of struggling farmers over 100 years ago – “Do what you can, where you are, with what you’ve got.”  Farmers struggle a lot, so an intrinsic self-reliance – as Roosevelt was advocating – is a big part of why farmers are still around today.

Farmers are not just good at doing what they can with what they’ve got, they’re also good at doing good with what they’ve got, which is another reason we still have farmers and small towns.  As self-reliant as farmers are, there’s also no one quicker to lend a hand.

Farmers embody the best of both sides in our nation’s political divide – the self-reliance that’s a hallmark of traditional conservatism and the willingness to help those in need that’s the bedrock of traditional progressivism.  And there’s nothing wrong with this – I suspect most of us possess both of these qualities to varying degrees, but because we do vary in how we balance self-interest with the greater good, our nation has become alarmingly polarized.  Conservatives decry helping the less-fortunate because ‘people need to stand on their own two feet.’  Progressives, however, sometimes go so far in helping the disadvantaged that they remove people’s incentive to take responsibility for themselves.

Farmers understand that we all must do our best to take care of ourselves – it’s an extension of taking care of one’s land, one’s crops and livestock.  But because farmers know that no matter how hard one works, life sometimes hands you things you can’t overcome on your own, farmers never hesitate to help a neighbor in need.

I’ve come to believe that the conflict between helping one’s self and helping others has been deliberately stirred up by certain special interest groups seeking to benefit their narrow interests at the expense of national unity.  Politics is more about marketing than anything else, and marketing tools have evolved to the point where significant demographic segments can be manipulated not only into buying products they don’t need, they can be manipulated into supporting – or opposing – political policies based upon how issues are framed – described and presented – and bundled together.  After all, what do abortion, gun rights and tax policy really have in common?  Yet people on opposing sides of any of these issues are usually on opposing sides of the others as well. And there are powerful forces in our society that know if they can bundle their issue with one of these, they can get voters to support their interests, often without even realizing it.

Our nation sprang from strong agrarian roots, but we’ve drifted far from those roots, especially in the last 100 years.  Maybe it’s time for a hard look back at where we come from.  And maybe, by doing so, we can regain an appreciation for that age-old agrarian understanding that our society is strongest when we each do “what we can, where we are, with what we’ve got” AND when we help others overcome circumstances beyond their control.

Lots of things come in bundles, from phone and Internet services to Chinese food and fortune cookies.  But political issues need to stand on their own.  Maybe, if we can somehow start evaluating political policies on their individual merit again, we can begin to wrest control of our government back from the special interests whose unceasing divide and conquer techniques are tearing this country apart.

409. The Fabric Of Life

I recently dreamed that two older women suddenly materialized in front of me.  Their appearance was as odd as their entrance, and I knew they were some sort of mystical beings.  One said to the other “we have to kill him (me) this time.”  Then a third woman appeared who argued for sparing me.  It wasn’t hard to figure out these were the mythical Fates, three sisters who determine what happens in each of our lives.

Unable to decide what to do, they turned to their mother.  An older women then appeared (she wore very thick glasses, perhaps to help her see deeply into things).  She introduced herself in a cheery voice as “Elaina, the Twilling…”  Unfortunately, I can’t remember the word that came after “twilling,” but it started with “tw” also and seemed to describe her occupation.  They then wandered off, caught up in an intense discussion of whether I should live or die.

I don’t like the implications of this dream – it suggests my future is currently in doubt.  Dreams have long been regarded as a source of hidden knowledge; traditionally they were seen as messages from God, but today those messages are seen as arising from one’s own unconscious.  Either way, though, what can I do?  My future lies (symbolically, at least) with the Fates and their mother; only time will tell what they decide.

While we’ve all heard of the three fates, I, at least, had never heard of their mother.  And what does the word “twilling” mean?  Turns out it’s from an Old English word that means weaving cloth with parallel ridges (like corduroy).

This reference to weaving provokes more thought – do our lives, our destinies, often run parallel to one another’s?  Could it mean, perhaps, that the fabric of life, woven with the threads of everyone’s destiny, consists of ridges that we all must overcome?

Whether that’s what my dream alluded to or not, that would seem to describe the texture of fate’s fabric – ridged with challenges that are traversed only to encounter another and then another.  I can’t help but think this metaphor applies to many lives right now – the fate of thousands of Nebraskans and Iowans has run into a morass of ridges presented by the recent flooding.  Like a herd of buffalo driven over a cliff by our Native American predecessors, people’s lives have run in parallel – one beside another – into an abyss of suffering and loss.

And yet there the lives of many more people converged – the outpouring of assistance to flood victims has been phenomenal.  My wife Lori and I set up a donation bowl at the recent Danielle Anderson concert, and when we took the money to the Methodist church in St. Edward, the ladies working there teared up a little while describing how the church sanctuary had recently been filled to the ceiling with donated food, clothing and cleaning supplies.  Most items were gone by then, but these ladies will be there to give and receive until every need is met.  The same thing is going on in community after community where family, friends, neighbors and total strangers have all converged to help those in need.

Sooner or later the Fates cut the thread of everyone’s life and the tapestry twilled from that thread abruptly ends.  But so long as our willingness to help one another remains strong – a quality rural communities seem destined to possess – this area’s fabric of life will endure no matter what the Fates decide our lot should be.