The more I try to parent teenagers, the more I recognize similar patterns in the political machinations of Washington, D.C.
They — the ruling class — are not unlike teenagers with their proclivities toward cliques, anxieties, fragile egos, constant craving for attention and their vast cadre of sophisticated psychological operations specifically and simultaneously geared for self-promotion, and suppression — even destruction of their opposition. The parallels are eerie.
A recent conversation with my daughter gave me a powerful reminder of this.
She wanted something. I said ‘no‘ repeatedly.
Not, at least, until I saw some growth in her, I said. I used the words “contrition” and “gratitude.”
She asked me what those words meant. “Real, palpable remorse for something you said or did,” I said. They are the sort of heartfelt human reflection that will hopefully transform you from your last phase in life to the next. Not simply an “I’m sorry” solely meant to move on from the episode.
Instead, I encouraged her to reflect on things. Consider how your actions affected others, especially those you love. Ultimately, try to change the behavior pattern so that the next time a situation arises, you act differently.
When you transmit a deep abiding apology it repairs even the greatest of divides. Likewise, learn to exercise gratitude. Not a superficial ‘thank you’ that fulfills a social obligation, but a real, heartfelt sense of appreciation for something someone did for you. Don’t say it loosely. Look them in the eye and mean it.
Carrying around a ledger of grudges and vengeance is unhealthy. Gratitude and appreciation are as good for the soul and the soul of others as resentment and contempt are as destructive to it.
A lesson that the elected officials in Washington should learn, but never will.
Last week, after the death of Senator John McCain, I suggested that I find nothing so unseemly as dancing on another man’s grave. His passing produced all too many people who used it as an opportunity to defame his character, and much of it bordered on celebration that he had succumbed to cancer.
As time has passed, I am now finding that the inverse also appears to be true. There is nothing so unseemly as the use of a man’s death to promote one’s own career or politics. We can all think of an anecdote of someone who over-emotes at the passing of someone they barely knew. Feigned gratuitous, nakedly political gestures, sympathies, fondness seem but veiled attempts to hurt another, and gain adulation.
But sadly, that seems to be precisely where we are. Contrite apologies never happen among politicians. Rarely does real, heartfelt gratitude. I see little earnest remorse expressed from a variety of leaders, not just in Washington but also leaders in business, media or religion. I see none of it from the Pope, from the president, from the New York Times, from Chuck Schumer, or from anyone in Hollywood. I see too many who are simply self-consumed with the destruction of another person, or for their own self-preservation.
Things the soul needs for personal transformation, so does a nation for its societal transformation. After all, as expressed in The Guns of August, the same things that stir people to conflict also provoke nations to war.
Whatever it is that plagues us, it has been on full display the last few days.
Despite their differences, the death of Senator McCain was a good opportunity for Mr. Trump and his detractors to transmit some on-the-job maturation to the world, and hopefully inspire others to do the same. Some self-reflection about men, conflict, politics and the need to grow beyond the things that lead to their tendency toward mutually assured self-destruction was called for, and would have been a welcome expression.
After all, that’s what he and McCain represented. From the outset, the two men were nasty to one another. The dossier, and the mention of McCain’s service by the president. The deeply personal criticism and oppositional defiant nature by McCain. That’s how wars start.
The president could have included his detractors in his plea as well. After all, the New York Times and many of the media quarters now singing the late Senator’s praises, were the same ones who poisonously targeted McCain as a pariah and warmonger when he ran against then Senator Barack Obama.
Now, they want to name buildings after him.
The left hated him when he threatened them, loved him when he accommodated them.
We are a teenage nation.