As Kindergarteners, my children were introduced to the Bard of Avon by performing in what was titled “Short Shakespeare.” It originated from the words of the adorable narrator who introduced the annual festivities by stating: “What do you expect? We are short people with short attention spans.”
While taller now, we adults still suffer the same problem. We too have short memories and appear to think less and less for ourselves. I suspect sociologists, theologians, anthropologists, historians, psychologists, neurologists, and others have much to contribute as to “why” this is the case. Whatever it may be, we are wired for inconsistency, juxtaposition, and counterpoint.
Welcome to the human condition.
Because of this, we tend to look to third party validators – be they people or institutions – for our sense of security, even purpose. If there is a cultural divide in the United States these days, it is not necessarily over political choices. Instead, it’s based on coping mechanisms.
Looking for Angels
The genuinely damaging effects of the Covid-19 outbreak are not with our physical health (we face much greater danger from cancer and coronary diseases). Instead, this pandemic has created two people groups: those who are naturally hardwired to use fear or group identity as their key motivator and decision matrix, and those who are very comfortable with risk-taking and skeptical of group mores. We all fall into one (or perhaps both) of these camps.
From my vantage point at DonorsTrust, the immediate problem is that too many of us look to politics and government structure (whether representative democracy or authoritarianism) as a key mechanism by which to address these human inconsistencies and/or to broach the cultural divide. Consequently, the election, and the processes that are connected to it, consume our passion, plans, and pocketbook.
Now I do not intend to diminish nor disrespect the powerful feelings many have about this election. There are important ideas at stake. We are, indeed, living at a time of great social unrest, the likes of which we have not experienced for several generations.
There is reason for concern about how government may be used for highly intrusive actions; there is dread that this election will be decided not by citizens and their representative electors but by highly paid lawyers; there is fear for public safety and urban unrest in the days and weeks that follow whatever will be reported on Wednesday, November 4th. There is the possibility that we are facing an economic Depression, not merely a recession, and that certain policies could exacerbate an already volatile situation.
I get it.
I believe passionately in donor choice and freedom. How you wish to spend your time and treasure should always be your decision. If you seek to devote your resources to help elect a certain candidate, or to lobby for or against a particular policy or regulatory change, then participate with gusto. That is civic engagement and it should be lauded. To the extent that DonorsTrust can assist you in these endeavors (within our legal restrictions of course), we will enthusiastically do so.
But what about when the dust settles? What about when “we” or “they” lose (be it now or in four years)? Can you use your giving to offset the perceived negative effects of certain political outcomes? Will you even care to?
A Call for Principled Giving
That’s when we need to remember that the political landscape is fluid and temporary, but your charitable principles are not. You give despite elections, not because of them.
There is plenty to do.
- Support policy groups at the state and federal level because they will matter, perhaps now more than ever.
- Seek positive change locally – where small groups of committed individuals can inject hope, opportunity, and practical skills to move people to work, irrespective of what comes out of the White House or Congress.
- Invest in litigation and our court system – that crucial third leg of the triumvirate of Republican democracy – for it is a tactic that needs resources, and time, to succeed.
- Push for educational transformation – we’ve a unique window of opportunity brought on by the pandemics’ decimation of what was “normal.”
- Create scholarships for vocational training – it will be more vital these next years than ever before.
- Seek solace in your local music or arts scene, for they can restore your soul and the fabric of a community.
- Engage with the activist groups that will spring up after the election results – there may not be the same tax benefit to your gifts, but it can give you a new voice.
Securing liberty, even if only by baby steps, is still progress.
Despite the world around us, who will you be? Will your commitment to the principles of limited government, free enterprise and personal responsibility waver, go extinct? Or will you merely seek a new outlet for your charitable dollars?
Passing the Torch
In my 54 years, I have been blessed to experience places with vastly different histories and perspectives on human freedom, government, and citizens’ creativity. I’ve traveled behind the Iron Curtain and been detained by East German border police during the Cold War. I have walked streets, visited memorials, and touched bullet holes in places like Havana, Sofia, Bucharest, Beijing, Sarajevo, Zagreb, Tiblisi, Krakow, Tirana, and Astana. I have watched rockets arch over the Golan Heights towards Syria in the decade following the Six Day war; I have seen women beaten by Moroccan guards while crossing an international border merely to sell goods to earn an income for their family. I have walked through the slums by Cape Town and Mumbai and seen firsthand what happens when we “categorize” our fellow human beings.
Great injustices have always been a part of this world. Often, governments are the worst perpetrators. We must be distrustful of power, even if we are sympathetic to those who honestly and temporarily claim to use it “for good.” Our short attention spans prevent us from internalizing the long game. Or even when we do develop that perspective, we are easily distracted by something else that suddenly seems urgent. Be sure those extra-governmental charities are positioned and primed to engage, for the sake of all of us.
We will experience more “critical” elections and more failed politicians. Markets will rise and markets will fall. Supreme Court justices will disappoint as often as they fuel our hopes. Viruses will mutate, but they will also die.
Much is at stake, but much has always been at stake. Generational torches are being passed. Let’s be sure our principles are as well.