Quite a few years ago now, I was taking my niece and nephew, now 37 and 34, respectively, to Six Flags Over Georgia, when an argument ensued in the backseat of the car—of a sort many parents deal with regularly. After several attempts to stop the brouhaha, I heard one of them call the other stupid, and though I was on I-285, I whipped over to the emergency lane and stopped the car. “Here’s the deal,” I said. “Either this stops now and we go on to Six Flags where we can all have fun, or it doesn’t and we all go home. It’s your choice.”
I wasn’t surprised at my niece and nephew, nor was I concerned about their maturity—they were about 12 and 9 years old at the time. Learning to control yourself, to compromise, to take responsibility for your contribution to conflict and make decisions to give up something for something else that in the end benefits everyone—long before the trains of narrow-minded bravado threaten to collide—is a developmental task for adolescents, and as their aunt, it was, I thought, part of my responsibility as an adult who loved them to contribute to that learning. They were, after all, adolescents and I had no doubts that the fights were time-limited, that they would grow up and into their lives as adults with respect for each other.
Since 1976, I’ve voted for people I didn’t agree with 100%, but I always assumed they were adults who’d achieved that developmental milestone—adults who demonstrated a capacity for self-control; an ability to look at a problem from all sides and debate the pros and cons of various courses of action; the maturity to admit when they’d made a mistake, ask forgiveness and offer the same grace in return; the decency to show respect for another’s opinion and make a genuine effort to understand his or her concerns; and the awareness that to earn respect you have to show it, another one of those things we learn in the safe microcosm of our families. I assumed I was voting for people capable of suspending their judgment until they’d listened, grownups who’d long since figured out that we aren’t blessed with the ability to define another’s motives and that character is what one does when nobody’s looking and you won’t get “caught”—revealed by adversity, not born of it. But at the moment, I’m not very confident in my assumptions about any of the people we’ve voted for.
But I’m not terribly worried. Just frustrated. And disappointed. There will be other elections—and one way or another, we will live through whatever reality we create for ourselves, the level of taxes we pay, whether the deficit is reduced in 10 years, 15 years or never. The good news is that there will be breakthroughs to new and wonderful inventions born of necessity, a truth Ben Franklin once said though he could not have imagined the necessities or inventions we know today, just as you and I cannot imagine the amazing solutions those who follow us baby boomers will come up with.
I know that it’s true because, on a day long ago, though for a brief moment we came to a screeching halt on the side of I-285…
We went to Six Flags.