Let me paint a picture for you.
You're sitting at the dinner table, talking with your siblings; you're standing in the driveway, talking to your neighbor; you're grabbing drinks after work with your coworker and suddenly someone brings up a hot topic. Something such as abortion, Obamacare, student loans, gun control, education, etc. In the political world, we call these "issues", which implies that they are problems that need to be fixed. You have an opinion about the issue your neighbor has just brought up, or maybe you think you don’t have an opinion; either way your opinion is not the same as the other person’s. So perhaps you listen quietly, nodding and never saying a word, or you make an end-the-conversation comment that dismisses the subject as a waste of time, or maybe you take charge of the conversation, brashly expressing your opinion and shaming the other person for theirs. Then you walk away from the conversation and it gnaws at you a bit, but you eventually shrug it off because his opinion doesn't really matter. You decide that her opinion can't really affect you anyway.
Or can it?
It's Election Day, we go to the polls, and we each choose candidates who most closely align with our thoughts on those "issues" to fill varying rolls of our government. We walk out thinking: “We've induced true change, and that in a year we as a nation will be on our way to progress. We've done our part by voting. Now we get to sit back on our couch and watch it all change through the eyes of CSPAN.” Right? In reality, each of us hopes that this election cycle will be different but knows that in a year and a half we will all most likely be griping again about those "stupid politicians" who can't cross the aisle, just agree, and get something done.
Why is that?
Because we have a government that is "by the people for the people." What does that mean exactly? It means that candidates run on the basis of how they are going to act and vote on certain "issues" and then they are supposed to stay true to their word. Each candidate’s list of issues and what view they take on them is called the candidate’s “ticket”. Thankfully most elected officials stay true to their ticket while they are in office.
Then why is nothing getting done?
This takes us back to that conversation you had at the kitchen table nine months ago. The conversation in which a touchy issue was brought up, and I chose not to engage in the conversation in a meaningful way. The one in which your sister didn’t share her opinion and simultaneously listen well to her grandmother’s views. That time your friend railed against people who held views that were different from his in a long Facebook discussion thread.
Ultimately nothing is accomplished politically because we express our views on a surface level and don’t share the heart behind why we really care. Think about it. Why do you really care about homosexuality? abortion? gun control?
Why are those things important to you?
My guess is that the face of a friend or a family member just came to mind along with a remembrance of their story; or perhaps even your own story came to mind. These things are near and dear to our hearts. Sometimes it’s hard to share the real reasons that we feel strongly about these issues with others because it feels like we are laying ourselves and our deep emotional feelings bare to the world, opening ourselves up to criticism, and potentially creating dissension.
But for all of our fears and insecurities, these are the stories that change policies. Yes, even right at the kitchen table. Our government was created in such a way that if the people can't reach a mutual agreement, neither can the government. If we can’t sit across the table from each other, candidates cannot cross the aisle. Until we as Americans, and especially as Millennials, begin to have honest conversations with each other about why we see things the way we do, the change we hope to see will not happen.
Your neighbor’s vote carries the same weight as yours. Have the conversation. I will too.