How To Make an Informed Political Decision

I’ve considered writing this post for a long, long time. I always stopped myself for some reason or another – not wanting to ruffle feathers, maybe, or trying to steer clear of such an emotional topic. But something happened recently that caused me to become so appalled by myself that I feel like I need to speak up.

The last time I heard Trump speak was earlier this week, at the umpteenth GOP debate – where I sat on the couch, head-in-hands, and listened to the same hateful blather we’ve been hearing since June. Someone else in the room shook their head, let out a low whistle and said, “If he gets elected, it could very well lead to an assassination.”

The words tumbled out of my mouth before I gave them a second thought: “We can only hope.”

I’m ashamed to admit that. Ashamed to type it out, specifically, but also ashamed that I’m apparently capable of such despicable thoughts to begin with. I heard myself say those words and almost physically recoiled. I challenged myself, in that moment: “Really, Susie? Did you just wish death on someone?”

How can I purport to be a compassionate, thoughtful, open-minded person if I just flippantly disregarded someone’s life just because I don’t agree with them?

Make no mistake – I do not want Donald Trump to be president. I don’t even want to see his face anymore. His incredulous ignorance would be the downfall of our country – and I can’t understand how any president could possibly be successful when he was almost banned from the UK for his flagrant hate speech. In my perfect world, Trump would slither back into his gold-encrusted rat cave and never be heard from again.

…Okay, I’m guilty of some hatred myself. But death? That’s low, even for me.

And yet – it’s not even that uncommon. This type of wrath, hatred, and absolute intolerance for the opposing side of a political argument has been steadily growing for 150 years. In fact, the American public is more politically polarized today than during the Civil War… so me casually dismissing the idea of a presidential assassination is not altogether surprising. It’s merely a product of the growing ideological gap that has enabled us to view each other as if on opposite sides of a barbed wire fence.

Since I’ve been alive, party affiliation has become as rigid a part of a person’s identity as their ethnicity. With the social networks and the media offering a platform for only the loudest and most extreme voices to be heard, we’ve come to expect the same of the people around us: What are you, red or blue?

But when I was younger, it was not entirely uncommon to meet someone who considered themselves a moderate – or at least, was capable of holding both Democratic or Republican viewpoints depending on the subject matter. (As Chris Rock famously said, “Crime? I’m conservative. Prostitution? I’m liberal.”) Growing up, I tended to admire these people – it seemed to me that someone who saw beyond party affiliation when forming their opinions was slightly more evolved than those who based their entire ideologies on which side of the aisle it represented. Even when it came people who leaned pretty heavily to one side or another, I found greater respect for them if they could point out the merits of the other side’s perspective… then respectfully disagree.

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and retain the ability to function.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

But now? We’ve mutated so entirely into “us versus them” that you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who isn’t so busy slinging mud that they even have the capacity to entertain the possibility of respect. We don’t just disagree with our opponents, we abhor them. They aren’t just wrong, they’re downright stupid.

This is strongly reflected in the landscape of political rhetoric right now. Not only has the percentage of Americans with a “very unfavorable” view of the opposing side more than doubled in the last 20 years alone… but among those people, a vast majority actually see the opposing party as a threat to the nation’s well-being. This has consequences for our personal relationships as well: Between 49-63% of Americans say that most or all of their close friends share their political views. Which shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that those who don’t share your views are uninformed, psychotic bozos who don’t understand the way the world works. Right? We belittle them to the point of dehumanization – which I suppose makes it easier for us to… I dunno… wish death upon them.

So why does this matter? Why do I care? Why can’t we just go on hating one another? Because – and this is where my point will become a little ironic – discourse is a good thing. It’s actually a really healthy thing. When done right, it fosters thoughtful progression and critical thinking. But when we’re all so cemented into our beliefs, entirely unwilling to entertain the opposing position – and moreover, when we’re of the mind that those opponents are the spawn of the devil himself – any hope of common ground or collaboration goes out the window.

“The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of a doubt, what is laid before him.” – Leo Tolstoy

Not only does that land us in in a presidential tug-of-war where each new commander-in-chief spends their term unraveling the accomplishments of their predecessor… it also becomes a self-perpetuating societal problem, wherein we only surround ourselves with like-minded people who reassure us of our existing belief systems (rather than challenging us to think differently).

Left unchecked, this will only lead to more antagonism, less compassion, and increasingly siloed political gangs which do little to move our country forward.

I don’t care who you vote for. (Unless you’re voting for Trump. Then I care a little.) But whatever you choose, let it be after rational, open-minded consideration. Find someone on the opposing side and invite them to coffee. Ask them questions until you fully understand their position. Try to articulate areas in which you do agree, then areas you don’t – and why – while being respectful. Then use that intellectual prowess to make an informed, level-headed decision – both in this election and for the rest of your life.

“Opinion is really the lowest form of human knowledge. It requires no accountability, no understanding. The highest form of knowledge is empathy, for it requires us to suspend our egos and live in another’s world. It requires profound purpose larger than the self kind of understanding.” – Bill Bullard

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What They Don’t Tell You About Life

Here’s what they tell you about life:

You can do anything you set your mind to. Good things happen to good people, and vice versa. When you fall in love, “you’ll just know.” Cursive is an important thing to learn. Humpty Dumpty is an egg, even though absolutely nothing in the nursery rhyme ever indicates this.

But I’ve come to learn that while the adults who shaped my formative years certainly meant well… they left a lot out.

And so, in no particular order, here are the things they forgot to mention.

1. There isn’t just right and wrong, good and bad, black and white. In children’s books and movies, you’re often spoonfed the appropriate reaction to every ethical or existential dilemma. We know we’re supposed to hate Ursula because she stole Ariel’s voice and tricked Prince Eric. She did bad things which made her a bad character.

But the thing is, the world is a chaotic tapestry of all colors and shades, and not every action will be purely good or bad. People, likewise, aren’t conveniently plopped into precategorized buckets of good and evil. There are veritable saints who do terrible things, and murderers who commit good deeds. There are people who do bad things with good intentions, and those who have just lost their intention along the way. In your post-Disney-movie life, expect to encounter a lot of gray area.

2. Some questions don’t have a right answer. In school, and particularly with the invention of scantrons, we were taught that there is ONE accurate response to every question, while the rest are incorrect. And so we were primed, at an early age, to believe that every situation has one correct path – and that with enough preparation and intuition, we’ll know which one it is.

But in reality, sometimes when you’re making a decision, both options will have an equal list of pros and cons. You’ll survey everybody in your life, get a ton of conflicting advice, and be even more confused than when you started. There will be no clear, obvious direction and you’ll be forced to ask a question that as children, we’re never taught to answer: What do you actually want? What would make you the happiest?

3. You will make mistakes. I can’t stress this enough. Maybe this was just me – but as a child, a part of me honestly believed that adulthood meant you reached a time when you were all done screwing up. Like there was some tally being kept somewhere, and at a certain point you reached your quota, and now it was time to move forward into being a grown-up… where mistakes were a thing of the past, and instead you went around punishing kids for their mistakes.

But mistakes are a part of life. Without them, we’d be stagnant creatures. Never moving forward, never learning. Here’s the thing: you WILL fuck everything up, and you’ll feel awful, and just when things are starting to turn around you’ll fuck it all up again. You’ll blow off friends for stupid reasons and you’ll forget to call your mom back. You’ll say things you don’t mean (or things you do, but that you should have kept to yourself anyway). You’ll make messes. You’ll hurt feelings. Something important, at some point, will be all your fault. It’s just a fact of life.

4. Your heart will break. Inevitably. Maybe it’s just the kind of thing that is impossible to prepare someone for, which is why I’ve always felt so utterly unprepared. How can you tell a sunny, bright-eyed child that someday, without a doubt, they will give their heart to someone only to have it thrown on the ground and stomped on?

But it will happen. The rug will be pulled out from under you, and it will be the most damnable, pitiful thing. You’ll feel like someone hollowed you out with an ice cream scoop, and there will be a big gaping hole where in your middle where laughter once was. Colors will lose their vibrance, food will become tasteless, and days will slog on like a funeral march. You will feel like you’re the only person in the history of the world to have experienced this acute pain – and simultaneously, you will know for an absolute fact that every heartbroken love song was written for you.

5. Sometimes you’ll be lonely. Did we even know the word “lonely” as kids? I was an only child for the first six years of my life, and I never remember uttering it – I had my books and journals to keep me company. But somewhere along the way, we started needing other people around to feel whole, to obtain a sense of belonging.

And as such, there will be times when you’ll feel the twang of loneliness at your heartstrings. Maybe it will be after a breakup, or maybe it’ll just be after moving to an unfamiliar city. Loneliness will get you in a chokehold and won’t let go. You’ll be so lonely that you’re sure you’re the only one left, that everyone else has progressed without you. The rest of the world matured and moved on and now lead happy, fulfilled lives – and you missed the train, it’s too late, you’ll never have what they have. Loneliness is a sickly-sweet poison, and it will taunt and immobilize you.

6. You really SHOULD do all the things your parents bug you about. Sometimes I wonder what my mom and I would even talk about if I would just go ahead and get an oil change already. Because well-intended or not, parental advice begins to coalesce into an annoying gray blob of jabber after awhile. Yes, I’ll take my car in. Yes, I’ll ask my boss about insurance. Yes, I’ll call Grandma. I just can’t help it – as a daughter, I assume it must be written in my DNA that whenever my parents instruct me to do something, it gets filed in a mental folder entitled “sure, when I get to it.”

But KIDS. You need to GROW OUT of this habit. You should floss, because one day teeth cleanings will be your financial concern, not your parents’. You should wear sunscreen, because there will come a time in your life when you actually do start to notice new freckles on your shoulders and it will worry you enough to start googling “early signs of skin cancer.” If someone gives you an article of clothing as a gift, you really SHOULD wear it the next time you see them. You should sit up straight. You should watch less TV and spend more time outside. You should eat your vegetables. You should say “please” and “thank you.”

7. Life is hard. Maybe I was told that, I don’t know, but if so it certainly wasn’t spelled out. I thought “life is hard” was just a quaint cat poster pinned to an office wall. I thought I understood it, back then, as a funny little inside joke that was-true-but-maybe-wasn’t-exactly-true.

But it is. Life is really, really, unequivocally, unexplainably hard. Life will be so hard that you’ll feel betrayed or cheated somehow. You’ll think everyone else has it easier, that you got the short end of the stick. You’ll constantly compare yourself to others, and you will always lose. You’ll start to lose hope for the future; you’ll start to wonder what the point even is.

8. But, life is also amazing. For all the trials and tribulations and confusions and heartaches life brings… it also blows your mind with its joy and surprises. The human experience is one of constant discovery and connection, and without all the crappy parts of life… we’d never appreciate the peaks.

I am writing this at a time in my life when numbers 1-7 are intimately, excruciatingly familiar to me. But the moral of the story is, there’s always tomorrow. And historically speaking, tomorrow is when # 8 rears its beautiful head.

HEY, JK Rowling, stop being such a tyrant.

I’d like to preface this post by saying that I am wholly and completely, absolutely, entirely, all-encompassingly obsessed with Harry Potter.

It is, hands down, the best thing that has ever happened to me in my life. (Sorry, little sister being born. Sorry, friends and family. Sorry, moving to the best city in the world and landing my dream job.) It’s just that Harry Potter practically defined my existence. When Harry was 11, I was 11. When he received his letter from Hogwarts, I was scanning the skies for owls for weeks. When he graduated school and became an auror, I graduated school and became an auror a hotel front desk representative. We very literally grew up together.

Not to mention the sheer prevalence of Harry Potter in my life. The books were initially released in the UK before the US, and I had a friend actually bring me back a copy of the 2nd book from London so I wouldn’t have to wait the extra few months. When I was younger I got in trouble for something while halfway through # 5, and my punishment was that my mom tied the book shut with a ribbon. About half of my middle school friendships were built on a foundation of this one, shared obsession. And when the last book was released my senior year, my best friend and I were first in line at the downtown Borders when the clock struck midnight.

Needless to say, my entire childhood – nay, my entire existence would be different if not for this earth-shattering collection of books. I owe JK Rowling my life.

Which is why, now that I spend two hours a day siting in traffic, I figured snagging the Harry Potter audiobooks and reliving these life-altering adventures would be the perfect way to spend my brakelight-filled mornings and afternoons.

That is – until I started looking for them.

If you’ve never listened to an audiobook before (first of all, START. Audiobooks have affected my life more than the inventions of blu-ray and 3D movies and Siri combined), you have a couple of different options. You can purchase the actual CDs from a store, or you can download it the same way you would a movie or song from iTunes. For my audiobook pleasure, I use an app called Hoopla – which works just like a virtual library. I would highly recommend it – thousands of titles available, and you check them out for free and just have to “return” them within a month. It eats away your data plan, but beats having to pay for each and every book book (which I did for the first few months following my audiobook discovery).

I was disheartened to find, however, that despite the series landing the number-three spot of the most read books in the world, I could not find the audiobook version of the Harry Potter series anywhere. To my great dismay, it was not available on Hoopla. I even checked Audible and iTunes, but to no avail.

There had to be some kind of mistake. Harry Potter was the best thing that ever existed (we’ve already covered this), so why on earth wouldn’t it be available for public consumption? Surely JK Rowling, in her infinite amazingness, would want the Average Joe to be able to experience this dynasty of literary achievement.

But then, oh wait… there’s this little thing called a monopoly, which dominates our capitalist world. And JK Rowling is no fool; the product is in demand and she has the supply. After further investigation, the audiobooks are actually available on Pottermore… to the tune of $40 a pop. This feels vaguely akin to Beatles music not being available on iTunes until 2010.

It’s long been known that JK Rowling is richer than the queen. However recently, Contently also revealed that people would actually prefer her as their leader as well. This doesn’t surprise me; her storytelling ability is certainly the stuff of legend.

But come on, Joanne. You’ve already got the world wrapped around your finger… and moreover, I already OWN several copies of each of your seven masterpieces – as well as some of your work as Robert Galbraith. I love you, I support you, I’m one of your loyal & loving fans. Cut a girl a break.

Stop calling yourself a grammar nazi.

I wouldn’t call myself a grammar nazi.

I wouldn’t do so, first of all, because I think “grammar nazi” has become synonymous with “homophone nazi.” And the whole world has gotten a little homophone-happy in the last couple years.

It’s like everyone on the internet learned the difference between your and you’re on the same day, and after that “grammar nazi-ism” became something of a viral trend. My Facebook newsfeed is flooded with memes about ‘then & than,’ or ‘there, their, & they’re,’ or ‘effect & affect.’

This wouldn’t bother me, except that homophones represent such a tiny portion of the grammar mistakes made on the internet daily… and simultaneously, about 90% of “grammar nazi” corrections.

It’s like once people became acclimated with this one itty bitty rule, they hoisted themselves up onto a pedestal and started smirking down at the rest of the world… meanwhile littering all their posts with split infinitives, dangling modifiers, and improperly-used subjunctives.

For this reason, one of my biggest grammar pet peeves is people using “I” …when “me” is actually correct (“Here’s a picture of John and I at the beach!”), since it seems to me the truest form of blind conceit.

I can only assume that this person got corrected one too many times, and just began to phase the word “me” out of their vocabulary entirely. When they succeeded, they likely congratulated themselves on their achievement, became a self-appointed “grammar nazi,” and began posting shaming memes. (Which, as a rule, I’m pretty much against altogether.)

Just for kicks, here are my other top three:

  • A-whole-nother
  • Your guys’
  • It begs the question

Still, I can’t exactly hold it against anybody. Especially since errors like this exist in language we see more often:

  • Honey, I shrunk the kids (either ‘have shrunk’ or ‘shrank’)
  • All men are created equal (equally)
  • Ten items or less (fewer)

And obviously, nobody’s perfect. Even just in the paragraph above, I used “they” with a singular antecedent, as a lazy form of gender neutrality.

Basically, all I’m saying is this: if you’re going to use an expression like “grammar nazi,” comparing yourself to a fascist national ideology justifying racial hierarchy and social darwinism…

You better be a damn good grammar representative.

The Ice Bucket Challenge, and Why Your Meme Isn’t Funny

If you’re on social media, or watch the news, or live within reasonable proximity to another human being, chances are you’ve heard of The Ice Bucket Challenge.

For those of you who haven’t, it’s an awareness campaign for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Several variations of the challenge have been circulating, but the gist is that if someone challenges you, you are given two options: donate $100 to the cause, or film yourself pouring a bucket of ice water over your head. 

The challenge has gone viral on social media, extending to professional athletes, celebrities, and politicians. The campaign has raised over $15.6 million in less than three weeks, compared to $1.8 million over the same period last year.

But of course, as night follows day, it has also generated its share of skepticism – since it seems most people would rather do the challenge than the more arguably beneficial option of donating. The term “slacktivism” has been thrown around a lot.

The meme factory started churning out its usual…

batman

matrix

zoolander

And my personal favorite:

water

I understand the temptation to criticize, I do. The challenge is a little annoying in its own right, and it’s gone so damn viral that there are probably more people participating in your newsfeed than not at this point. Posting a witty quip that makes the general populous look superficial and cheap, while simultaneously making you look like the altruistic voice of reason is downright tantalizing. (…And sure, it does seem a little silly that so many are ready to dump ice water over their heads before contributing to the actual cause.)

But what I think people are forgetting is that it’s an awareness campaign. Ideally, yes, it will equate to more dollars in the bank… but first and foremost, it was an attempt to bring an issue to light, which has had almost no exposure in the last century (hence the fact that it’s still best known as the disease that killed a professional baseball player in 1939).

And while pouring water over your head might not cure anybody, it will certainly get some attention. Then, by challenging someone else (three people, actually), you are exponentially increasing the impact of this effort. They will each either donate, or bring awareness to three more.

This is the power of a human network, and it’s working.

Did you even know what ALS was a month ago? Probably not. But now? It’s on the forefront of everyone’s minds, every social platform, and the subject of all kinds of media attention. That $15 million came from 307,000 new donors, who had never been involved with the organization at all before.

Not to mention the irony that those who criticize this act as “slacktivism” are, in essence, slacktivist hypocrites. You care just enough to criticize others… for not caring enough. But your advocacy apparently stops just shy of actually doing anything. The same can’t be said for those who voluntarily took an ice bath for a cause.

Ultimately, slacktivism or not, it’s doing a world of good and that should be all that matters.

So, those of you posting shaming memes: Take a deep breath, carefully climb off of your high horse, and let the people tip their ice buckets in peace.