There is a game that is as old as humanity, maybe older. It’s called: “The Blame Game.” It goes in and out of popularity, but seems to come back as anxiety increases (whether or not it is factually justified). Leaders often respond to The Blame Game either by joining in and trying to thrust as much blame on other leaders as possible, or by trying to justify or defend their positions against the onslaught of negative criticism. Then they draw the “Defensive” card, and there’s no way out of that one: go back three spaces. It is really difficult to stay neutral once the The Blame Game starts and the pointy fingers begin to roll out like dominoes falling in a line.
Despite some of the lowest crime rates in the past twenty or thirty years, despite massive economic recovery (granted, mostly for the higher income levels), despite an increase in productivity (believe it or not!), there is still anxiety in the U.S. And in a gubernatorial election season The Blame Game is in full swing. Did NAFTA (a very bi-partisan trade deal when it was approved in 1993 by the U.S. House and Senate) become our downfall? (That’s for another blog post, but an issue I’ve mentioned several times in discussions on our immigration “problem” with Central America) Have too many wars cost too much in lives and money? Our most recent wars, or “conflicts” if you’d like to be more politically correct, have cost less in American lives than most wars or conflicts in our history:
- in the Civili War the U.S. lost more than 600,000 people,
- in World War I more than 15 million people lost their lives (117,000 of them were from the U.S., Russia lost about 3 million and France lost about 1.8 million),
- in World War II cost the world more than 60 million lives, or about 3% of the world’s population (about 451,000 of them from the U.S., but 26 million from the Soviet Union and about 6 million from Poland),
- the Korean War cost the U.S. nearly 53,000 lives, and
- in Vietnam War, though never officially declared by congress, the U.S. lost nearly 60,000 lives (total deaths were around 1.3 million, with nearly 600,000 civilian deaths).
[Figures attained from http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0004615.html (accessed July 26, 2016)]
Compare those numbers to recent conflicts:
- the Gulf War in 1990-91: less than 500 in the conflict,
- in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq: 5,078, plus just under 1,400 “in theater” non-battle deaths,
[Figures attained from http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/03/26/body-count-report-reveals-least-13-million-lives-lost-us-led-war-terror (accessed July 26, 2016)]
This is not to say that the deaths in the Gulf War or in the “Global War on Terror” in Afghanistan and Iraq weren’t significant. They were. Any life snuffed out by war or violence is significant. But U.S. lives lost pale in comparison to the more than 1.3 million civilian lives lost during this decade-long war. Some say the figure is ten-times what is being reported. Yet, the news would have us believe our most recent conflicts have been the bloodiest ever for the U.S. It might make some of us wonder who the terrorists really are in the world.
During the Republican and Democratic National Conventions we have listened to each party’s platform and how they are going to “fix” the ills that are plaguing our society. Each has its own tact and tone. The big difference I see is that Donald Trump uses “I” a lot, and Hillary Clinton and the Democrats in general use “We” a lot. For the Republicans, they seem to be looking for a savior and Donald Trump has stepped forward and plugged in to that fear-based desire. The Democrats, as has been their platform for decades, have a more social platform that encourages everyone doing their part: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country!” President John F. Kennedy exclaimed in his inaugural address on the balcony of the U.S. Capitol building in 1961.
It’s easy to play The Blame Game when it comes to politics or leadership in any organization. We watch companies fire CEO’s like they are trying on different shirts in the dressing room at a department store. If one doesn’t work out, they just toss it aside and put on another. Never mind the fact that many of these companies have serious flaws in their structures, operations, and general working environment. I don’t see Hewlett Packard working very hard to truly take care of their employees, especially their lowest paid staff (how are the cleaning crews doing on health care?). Thus, their employees seem to have little loyalty to the company beyond getting their paychecks each week. Google thrived not just because its products are great, but because it trusted and entrusted its employees with a stake in the company’s outcome. Sadly, that is changing and we are watching Google struggle.
The constitution of the United States starts with an important word: “We.” This election, and every election whether it is local, regional, state, or national, is about “We,” though some candidates try to exploit our “I” fears. This is where I think our country has gone astray. “We” have shirked our responsibility for the outcomes of our politics and have given in to the temptation and illusion of “I.” Low voter turn out means we don’t trust “We,” or we don’t understand its impact. Overly simplified bumper stickers that take complex issues and boil them down to a short, snarky slogan. I still remember the popular one in the 1990s: “The one with the most toys wins.” I imagine the makers of those bumper stickers realizing, as they made a ton of money, that the slogan actually mocks those who put it on their expensive cars. (I loved it when I saw it on a tiny Corolla or something).
My church did a series on sustainability and looked at business sustainability. Though the focus was on the environment, the conversation quickly turned to how a business can be environmentally and economically sustainable—that is, in it for the long hall. Believe it or not, we were pointed to Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. It has become a model for environmental sustainability as well as business sustainability when it comes to how it cares for its employees in addition to the earth. Not only do they make a great beer, it really is a great company with a broad vision for environmental and community well being. Sierra Nevada Brewing understands “We.”
“I” is an illusion that has been sold to us by advertisers to get us to buy their crap so they can get rich and we can feed our dopamine addictions (I get it, I love ordering things on Amazon and getting that package only a day or two later, and I feel the frustration when I have to wait a whole three days for my dopamine fix…er…I mean, my purchase). “I” only gets us bigger walls in our neighborhoods. (compare backyards in places like California or Arizona to houses in Ohio: in Ohio, there are no fences, just shared open space, with an occasional fence around an above-ground pool for safety). “I” only gets us more angry when other people dare to use “my” road while “I” try to get to “my” job (never mind the fact that they’re doing and thinking the same thing!). “I” only gets us…well…Donald Trump, who made millions as his companies filed for bankruptcy protection, bilking investors but allowing him to keep his profits. If “we” want to turn this country around, then “we” need to start working for it…TOGETHER!
I’m writing my thesis for my Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) degree right now. One thing that has stuck in my head was shared in my very first class over three years ago: “A Ph.D. is a gift to the academy (the university). A D.Min. is a gift to the Church.” Both degrees are really gifts to our communities. They are not about “my” advancement (especially when it comes to a D.Min.). They are about helping us imagine building a better, stronger, and more connected society for the benefit of all. My whole thesis is about how the Christian practice of Eucharist (Lord’s Supper, Communion) is all about this concept of eusociality practiced at a table where all are welcomed and invited to participate so that we might leave the table and continue to share in the web of mutuality out in the world. At the table we care and provide for one another. Everyone receives care and nourishment.
“We the people” is emblematic of our innately eusocial quality as human beings—we need and count on one another for our security and wellbeing, whether or not we are willing to admit it. We are made to care for one another. In addition to the mantra, “It takes a village to raise a child,” it’s been said that the health of a society can be measured by how it cares for the poorest and least fortunate of its members. That means that our homeless, our mentally ill, our poorest neighbors are members of our society, whether or not we choose to acknowledge them. At the Christian Table of Eucharist (which means “thanksgiving”) we are required to not only acknowledge them, but invite them to the feast to share in the camaraderie of fellowship, and share in one another’s physical, intellectual, and spiritual nourishment.
I heard someone complain about having to support public schools with their tax dollars. I couldn’t help but respond by saying that those tax dollars are not theirs. It is the money we all pitch in to help make our community function. Which would we rather have: an uneducated populace that would bring all of us down, or an educated populous that invites everyone to participate in the intellectual and practical exercise of trying to make things better for all involved, including the complainers? When we do not care for other people’s children, we only hurt ourselves because we are forced to (or feel we have to) build higher walls to protect our homes and family from those incapable of caring for themselves because we refused to help them get educated. When my neighbors feel safe and secure, I know that my family and I are safer and more secure.
I don’t care about the party affiliation of my candidates. I tend to be more fiscally conservative and believe government should not try to legislate morality. But I also believe the government is our tool for trying to build a better, strong, and safer community for everyone. That means protecting the voices of minority voices (even the ones I do not agree with). It means holding people accountable for their behavior, while still making sure they have a voice and a stake in our communal outcomes. What I care about is whether our leaders care about our communities or only a select part of them. I believe in the “We” of our Constitution. I am part of a Church because I believe in the “We” we are called to be in Christ. The Blame Game is a two-edged sword. I’m sure you remember being told that when you point a finger at someone, three fingers are pointing back at you.
It is our job to call into leadership those people who have gifts for looking at the bigger picture and have a strong sense of the collective health of the community. It is also our job to be in communication with them, to check in with them, positively support them by encouraging them and compassionately calling them into question when they go astray from the foundational ideology of “We.” It is our responsibility to do our part to try to help everyone succeed as best they can, and to make our society function well. If we abdicate that responsibility, then we have no one to blame for the consequences but ourselves.
“We” created Donald Trump and his racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic arrogance. “We” created culture that made the Clintons with their quest for power and prestige. “We” created the rampant culture of fear of immigrants and black people because we allowed “our” government to think and speak for us without questioning it. “We” created this culture of greed and arrogance with bumper stickers like, “The one with the most toys wins.” “We” are to blame for anything we see wrong because “we” have not stepped up and into the fray to listen to those who may think or act differently, or to those being hurt by our social and economic systems. “We” are to blame because we don’t vote (I’m probably preaching to the choir on this one if you’ve read this far). “We” are to blame because we think it costs too much to care, not realizing that it costs much more not to. “We” can change and effect change for the better by looking for the good, while still paying attention to and thinking creatively about the challenges, by listening rather than shouting, by engaging rather than bullying (a form of fear-mongering by the fearful), by choosing to love even though it’s going to hurt (because it’s going to hurt more if we don’t).
For those of you who are Christian, the Kingdom of God is forged in “we,” not “I.” And The Blame Game has no place in the kingdom until we are able to accept and positively respond to our part in the blame.