Sunday, October 17, 2010

Great Expectations

Given that this is an election year, I can't turn on the radio, TV or pick up a newspaper with out being confronted with 24/7 punditry. One of the things I've found interesting is discussion of the so-called "enthusiasm gap" among folks who supported Obama in 2008 the opposition he and his party face in 2010. The New York Times magazine has a piece dedicated to examining what Obama has learned in his first two years in office. There's a lot in there to chew on, but the following quote from the President is the one I'd like to focus on:

“I make no apologies for having set high expectations for myself and for the country, because I think we can meet those expectations,” he said. “Now, the one thing that I will say — which I anticipated and can be tough — is the fact that in a big, messy democracy like this, everything takes time. And we’re not a culture that’s built on patience.”

You can say that again Mr. President. Impatience seems to be the defining characteristic of the American mind right now, regardless of political affiliation. Many of us seem to be saying, "Solve these problems now dammit." It's as if democracy is supposed to function like a fast food restaurant or a smart phone; fast, faster, fastest, the quicker the better. But our country is not a McDonald's or an iPhone. 'Abdu'l-Baha put it this way:

"The world of politics is like the world of man; he is seed at first, and then passes by degrees to the condition of embryo and foetus, acquiring a bone structure, being clothed with flesh, taking on his own special form, until at last he reaches the plane where he can befittingly fulfill the words: "the most excellent of Makers."[1] Just as this is a requirement of creation and is based on the universal Wisdom, the political world in the same way cannot instantaneously evolve from the nadir of defectiveness to the zenith of rightness and perfection. Rather, qualified individuals must strive by day and by night, using all those means which will conduce to progress, until the government and the people develop along every line from day to day and even from moment to moment." [1 Qur'án 23:14: "Blessed therefore be God, the most excellent of Makers."] (Abdu'l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 107)

At least one important characteristic of such "qualified individuals" is patience, a patience born of vision that extends well beyond a particular political cycle. We could use more people like that, not only within the halls of power, but more importantly, among the electorate itself.


  1. I love the quote. Thank you for sharing it! It brings me Hope!

  2. Anonymous2:15 AM

    While patience was a virtue the Founding Fathers tried to instill in the American populace -- and also by creating the system of "checks and balances" to make sure that change did not occur too quickly (and that made democracy prone to majority tyranny), it can be said that a slow-changing institution is also dangerous.

    If actions do not occur fast enough in this changing world, we will be left behind. People will be hurt. Mistakes might be made because no one ever chooses to fix them.

    The same is for EVERY institution. Patience is great, but it's also good to be aware of one's surroundings and to see that change might be necessary.

  3. Thanks Tammy and Anonymous. I agree that going too slow can be just as bad as going to fast. In either case I think we need leaders and those who vote for them to have realistic expectations and take a long view on solving problems, rather than "loosing enthusiasm" because problems that took a long time to create aren't solved quickly.