Belief in the Nation, Belief in the Individual

“When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Victor Frankl

I was introduced to Victor Frankl today in an article by Russell Bishop in The Huffington Post that discussed coping with the possibility that the “the other side” may win next week. Bishop was not picking sides – a rare enough feat these days – because he was crediting both parties with the passion and emotional investment that have made this such singular campaign.

No matter who wins, the world will not end and the country will not become unrecognizable (at least not right away). Sure, so many of us talk about moving to Canada if this one (as opposed to “that one”) wins, but we are the same people who threatened to do that back in 2004 and stayed on to realize that as much as we may differ with the guy in the oval office, our lives still looked pretty similar even if the news looked more and more grim.

Am I hiding my head in the consumerism-soaked, triviality-obsessed culture that watched American Idol as two wars dragged on? Am I too much a part of the nation that watched An Inconvenient Truth, wept, ranted… and then went to the air conditioned big box store to buy a couple of new light bulbs?

Must I believe that everything is going to be alright, regardless of who we elect, not because I truly believe that American is indestructible and her best days are ahead of her, but because believing anything else is just too damn terrifying?

Or is there actually hope to be harvested in this turbulent time regardless of who gets the top job? For all that we must be aware of the world around us and vote and care for the poor and question industrial pollution, what if all of our rhetoric is true and widespread change truly does begin at the individual level? What if we really are the change we have been waiting for and as amazing as it is to have an incredible leader sounding the charge, we actually have the power to make those changes ourselves?

Frankl’s work was indelibly marked by his three years in a Nazi concentration camp. For all that is at stake in this election, we are still going to wake up with a democratically elected leader (I know that the electoral college problematizes that statement, but bear with me) and we still have one of the best opportunities in the world to have a government we can be proud of. If Frankl could endure the greatest cruelties that one group of human beings have inflicted upon another in modern memory and emerge with this steadfast belief in the potential of the individual, why can’t we?

We have watched people from all segments of society rally around a candidate who we hope enacts the kind of change that he so eloquently describes. It is human nature to desire such figures with shoulders so broad and voices so powerful that they can bear the burdens of our dreams and sing the songs of our longed for freedoms. I can only wish that we can elect a hero and then awaken with a president who will recede to the edges of our vision so that we can recognize all of the potential that sleeps within each one of us.

I do not mean to introduce any defeatist notions into our push toward next Tuesday. I am confident that hope and reason will win out over fear and duplicity. Nor do I wish to tarnish the greatness of a candidate that I truly believe in. It is just that in the pursuit of being more accountable to the path of wisdom, I need to begin to allow myself to believe that we can walk in our own sense of greatness and then watch the ripples shape the rest of this world.

3 thoughts on “Belief in the Nation, Belief in the Individual

  1. blisschick October 27, 2008 / 10:19 pm

    Have you not yet read “Man’s search for meaning”!?!? How very, very exciting for you. It is a wonderful, wise work that has influenced my thinking more than I can probably describe. I read it approximately 18 years ago (I was around 22), and I think it has taken me a long, long time to understand his approach fully, and now that you bring him up, I can see how he is so alive in my blog’s tagline — be the change; live your bliss. His main thesis is that happiness is found in a lived purpose. So he developed logotherapy.

    And you are writing beautifully about the upcoming election. Have you been in my archives at all yet? I think on earth day I posted a piece actually called “Be the Change,” after spending an evening with baby boomers who seemed to think that Obama was going to save the world and our souls all at once. I felt/feel so frustrated by that. It not only puts power where there really isn’t that much, but it also takes away power from the individual, which you’ve probably noticed by now is all I’m about! 🙂

  2. christianliberal October 27, 2008 / 11:03 pm

    Many Americans want to apologize for the tragedy of the Bush years.

    As we approach the termination of the worst U.S. presidency in our history, we, the common people of this once great nation, apologize for the crimes the Bush administration has perpetrated on the world. We ask for your forgiveness, as we step towards the brink of electing a true patriot who holds dear the ideals that America once stood for. With Barack Obama as our new leader, we once again have hope for regaining the role of America as the beacon of justice in a peace-hungry world.

    We apologize for invading other countries.
    We apologize for our role in global warming.
    We apologize for advocating torture and preemptive war.
    We apologize for abandoning the Geneva Conventions.
    We apologize for spying on people.
    We apologize for economic coercion.
    We apologize for alienating our fellow citizens of the world.

    We sincerely hope that the new president will usher in an era of peace and understanding.
    Thank you for your patience over the past 8 years, and God bless you.

  3. girlwhocriedepiphany October 28, 2008 / 9:13 am

    BlissChick – My reading list is growing and growing (as ever). It is amazing how certain thinkers find you at the exact moment when you are ready for them… I haven’t had a chance to dip very deeply into your older posts, but will definitely go and check them out. You don’t want to squash all of this national enthusiasm, yet we all need a little perspective.

    ChristianLiberal – Thanks for visiting and for lending your fresh voice to this conversation that America must have with the world.

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