This quote appears on the walls at one of the buildings where I work. Its intent is to inspire. It was chosen, because by itself it does – or at least should – inspire. Inspire the hearer to lead a life that draws out dreaming and learning and doing and becoming in others, for the observers of our lives will see those same traits in us.
John Quincy Adams had another quote that fits hand in glove with what has been on my mind as I read the first quote from President Adams above:
Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.
For the first time in a long time that I can recall, I have personally heard more friends and acquaintances say that they really didn’t know what to do in yesterday’s Missouri presidential primary. Should they vote for someone they want? Should they vote for the one who stands the best chance of elect-ability? Should they vote the opposite party to block the one they perceive as the worst? It was remarkable to me how often I heard that. Remarkable enough, I suppose, that I am blogging about it.
And why is that? Why do so many people feel this same conflict? Voting is never easy, and we cannot expect to agree with any candidate on 100% of the issues or expect them to always do or say or act in the way we think that they should. If that is what we expect, we might as well give up now.
But why is the privilege of voting such a burden these days?
Part of me wants to say that it goes back to these two JQA quotes. For the first, we have a real leadership gap in this world today. Whatever happened to candidates that sounded like reasonable fellows – someone you could have a brew with and a reasonable debate about ideas? When did we become a nation that prizes bombastic celebrities or idealizes government as the means to take care of everyone or ignores law and deceit and lies in the name of “progress” to have a woman president? Now I realize I probably just offended a whole bunch of people, including family with that question, but who in the list of remaining presidential candidates truly epitomizes JQA’s idea of living a life that inspires others to “dream more, learn more, do more or become more”?
Bombastic rhetoric that rouses a crowd but doesn’t have real substance behind it doesn’t inspire me.
Condescending insults to my intelligence espousing ideas of the government providing for all of my needs doesn’t inspire me.
And “what difference does it make anyway?!” definitely doesn’t inspire me.
How many leaders these days live the kind of life that demonstrates dreaming big dreams, learning what works and what doesn’t work, doing more with less and becoming a better friend, confidant, worker, person, spouse or parent? If there were more, it might inspire me to vote with more energy and belief.
Which brings me to the second JQA quote – “vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.” While I love the ideal expressed herein, I can’t help but feel the angst of the need to vote to “win” despite principle. Those of us who identify as republicans can feel this quandary particularly sharply after the last two presidential losses, but I don’t believe that this is unique to republicans. Regardless the political party affiliation, we all want to win, and we all hate the sting of defeat. And JQA’s sentiment about cherishing “the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost”, doesn’t really feel like that. It feels like your vote is lost – that one vote does not really matter…or that the whole system is so rigged and crooked it doesn’t matter.
But that line of thinking is a dead-end street. And is the antithesis of what JQA expressed in the quote that appears on the walls of one building I frequent.
So herein is where I will conclude. My vote may not matter in the grand scheme of things. I may cast a vote that isn’t for principle, but that will not have been how I want to remember my voting experiences. I will instead do my best to vote and vote well. I may not brag on it, but I will trust that my voting – no matter how pointless it may feel at times – may, just may, inspire someone else to dream more, learn more, do more, become more and vote more. I may not be a “leader” in title or celebrity or media or power, but I hope I live a life of leadership of the kind that ol’ John Quincy Adams had in mind.
That goal – in and of itself – will not have been a waste.