Judging Obama, Judging Myself
Perhaps more than any other President, certainly in my lifetime, we have judged President Obama; his heritage, his past, his campaign promises, and his eloquent words. All politicians make promises. Our newest leader tempers those promises with something else; continual reminders that America, and indeed the world, faces enormous challenges, and that we all, collectively, must roll up our sleeves.
It is a recurring theme in his speeches, wherever he makes them. And so as we judge him, we must remember these words.
If we are waiting to see what the new administration can do for us, we've missed the point. We set Obama up for failure if this is our approach to the next four years. He is asking us…no, telling us not to sit back and wait for change to come. He asks us to be the change we seek.
Every President says they will represent the American people. This is the first time in my life that anyone has actually worked to engage those people…you and me… in the democratic process. Your comments are welcome. In fact, they are encouraged. So are your stories, your resumes, and your involvement. You can go to www.change.gov and be a part of the conversation about our economy, our environment, our place in the world.
But there's more. For me, there's getting up to speed. Ronald Reagan was President when I was in High School, and that was the last time that I was strongly engaged and active in politics. While I stayed involved in environmental issues, I grew disillusioned with politics by the time I'd reached my twenties. Fortunately, there's public television.
There's the Charlie Rose Show (Charlie has to be one of the most intelligent and informed human beings on the planet). There are any number of programs, like Frontline, The News Hour with Jim Lerher, BBC World News, American Experience, Nova and Nature, that teach us about our past, our present, and our potential future. There's Tavis Smiley and all his fascinating guests (Maya Angelou is on as I write). I can smarten up from the comfort of my home.
Doing things…taking action…yes, that step is next. Somehow activism was born within me. I was four years old when I learned that there were wild horses still running free on the American frontier. I was nine when we moved to then-rural Simi Valley, and I had my first encounter with running water that did not come from a faucet. I've been involved in issues affecting the environment and its inhabitants for the better part of my life. When I reached adulthood, I realized people were worth defending too.
Commendable indeed, but not enough for these times. I have to look at what I have not done, or could do better. I have to look at my responsibility to me. What is the most important thing a person can have? Ask any older person and they will tell you it is your health. Health is more than the physical body. Health is also a mental state of being. The body, mind and soul are inseparably linked, even if we have yet to identify where the soul resides.
Exercise, healthy food, positive social interaction, mental stimulation, abstinence from drugs and unhealthy excesses…these contribute to health and longevity, and these are my responsibility.
Most of us are concerned about the cost and availability of health care. If we have health insurance, we are probably paying a pretty penny for it. If we don't, all the more reason to stay as healthy as we can. Taking care of ourselves is probably the best thing we can do as individuals and as a country to combat the rising cost of health care. While we may have no control over some diseases, there are others that we can lessen our susceptibility to by making healthy life choices.
Financial security is often the thing we think of as most important, especially when that security is absent. I have a lot of work to do in this area. Even when I had money I did not manage it well. In the words of Suzi Orman, I did not have a relationship with my money. (Never heard of Suzi Orman? Watch public television).
Now I have much less disposable income than I did just five years ago, but the need for a relationship with it is the same, perhaps even more urgent. Money is a tool. Am I using that tool to its greatest advantage? Am I making the choices that will best serve me, not only now but in the future? Am I looking to the opportunities that the future might hold and will I be ready to take advantage of them? Am I still following my dreams or have I settled for "good enough?" Am I seeking ways to improve my financial situation, and am I looking outside the box, beyond my comfort zone, where there might be opportunities I haven't even thought of?
Then there is the thing about responsibility to my country. President Obama said something to the effect of Americans sharing (an ideological) common ground. I am less certain of what I can offer my country, less sure of this common ground. I know America as my home but I also know I am a second generation immigrant born to an American father. When I think of people saying "this is our country" I know that unless they are Native American, this is their country because their ancestors took it from its original inhabitants. I know that racial intolerance is far from over in America and I know that not everyone understands or embraces sustainable living. I don't know what the commonality and vision really is; I don't know what it is I can contribute.
I can offer what I know; we have to take care of the planet. There is still oil and gas in the ground to be exhumed for our consumption, but we can no longer ignore the effects of that action. Finding domestic sources of fossil fuels is not the problem; the overload of carbon in the atmosphere is, and it will not go away any time soon. We rob the future from our children as we pursue our own needs today.
To the world I can offer this knowledge, and one more thing. Respect. Respect for other human beings. Respect for the religious and cultural variations that give us the wonderful diversity of human experience. Respect for the ecosystems, worldwide, that support life. Respect for ourselves such that we may naturally and automatically treat others with respect.
And then there is the final judgment. President Obama has fulfilled a dream and a promise; the dream of equality and the promise of democracy. In this he has given us all reason to hope, to aspire, to dream. The dirty work of untangling a world in crisis faces him now, but the gift has been given. He is the first to admit that this is not his victory alone; that it is on the strength of many shoulders, people past and present, famous and common, that his journey has been made possible.
We are herewith invited to dream our own dreams, great or small. We can no longer languish in a sea of excuses.
Can I realize my dreams? Am I too old to start over?
I did it once. It seems a lifetime ago. Long disconnected from the relentless drive that propelled me forward then, perhaps there is another way. A more balanced way. A smarter way. One thing is certain. There are no excuses anymore. If there are dreams left inside of me, it is time to bring them forward, dust them off, and hold them to the light.
I should not, in four years' time, wish to pass the judgment upon myself that while a President just barely older than me made his mark on the world, I did nothing to make my own.