Election Heroes

I confess that election season makes me somewhat world weary, but every November—or every other as the case may be—there is a bright, shining star in the firmament: the writing in the Official Voter Information Guide. I want to pause and applaud the men and women in the Secretary of State’s Office who consistently produce something truly remarkable.

First remarkable quality: this is a truly unbiased document. Few things in this world are free from judgment, especially the inside of my brain. Not only do I have opinions about each ballot proposition, I have opinions about each piece of each proposition, about every person who walks past me on any given day, about the cookie I ate this afternoon (stale, in case you were wondering).

But not these folks, not while they’re writing this guide at least. They say only what a bill means—often not an easy task in and of itself—and what its effects will or might be. The known effects, not the ones they make up in their heads.

Second remarkable quality: some of them must read the actual legislation. I tried that with one proposition this year and made it to the second paragraph.

Third remarkable quality: they explain terms I probably should know without being condescending. They always know which terms voters are not going to know. Without fail, if I think, “What’s a wobbler?” the next sentence will say, “Some crimes can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. These crimes are known as ‘wobblers.’” They don’t preface it with, “For those of you who haven’t been paying attention”; they just tell you.

You might say, well, that’s their job; but it’s a hard job and they do it well and I am grateful. I wonder if it might be useful to live the way these people write, with no expectation of what people should know, looking at the world not with the intention of figuring out whether it is good or bad, right or wrong but just to see it clearly.

So to you anonymous explainers of propositions, thank you.

Be Kind, Be Kind, Be Kind

I voted today. Tomorrow, or tonight if you stay up late enough, almost everyone will have a reason to despair because of the results of a local or national election.

I believe, however, that neither politics nor economics ultimately decides the quality of our lives. I am not saying these systems don’t affect us. A leader’s decision to go to war, for example, changes lives forever. I am saying that there are other, more powerful forces at play.

I base this conclusion on the version of history taught in American primary education, which is mostly if not exclusively politics and economics. If history consisted only of the events in the history books, I’m convinced the human race would have wiped itself out long ago because, according to the official version, very little good ever happens. People and nations in power attempt to retain or expand that power and harm or kill a lot of other people along the way. If nothing stood in opposition to that story, the world would be a much more dismal place than it is.

I think what keeps or doesn’t keep us going is how kind we are to one another. While trying to figure out the motivation of the characters in my novel, I wrote to a few friends and asked them what they wanted out of life and why. My former Chinese religion professor wrote back and said, “Be kind, be kind, be kind.”

At the time I thought, that is not an answer, but now I wonder if it might be the only one worth pursuing.

Much of life is beyond our control, even in a country where we get to choose our leaders and in certain cases our laws. Sometimes being kind is all we can do for another person and all we can do for ourselves.

I think we often see kindness as a small gesture and forget what a tremendous difference it can make. It can change the course of history.