I had several ideas tee’d up for this post, but, in light of the impending inauguration, this one seemed to be the most appropriate. In about 1420, Filippo Brunelleschi, an architect, engineer and renaissance artist, conducted an experiment that resulted in the discovery or possibly, rediscovery of linear perspective and the painting of the Florentine Baptistery panel, for which he is well known. The concept of linear perspective is rooted in the idea of creating a piece of art such that the viewer feels they are on the exact spot seeing what the artist saw as it was painted. It provided context and depth to the artwork, resulting in realistic three-dimensional forms in a two-dimensional environment. So you are probably thinking, “I appreciate the obscure art history trivia, but what does this have to do with the inauguration and Donald Trump?” Well, I am glad you asked.
One thing I have noticed ever since the campaign for the Presidency began, which if memory serves was sometime in the 1930s, is the deep distrust and disgust with both of the major party candidates by supporters of the other party. The increasing divisiveness, the vitriolic hyperbole, the mocking, the baseness and the overall hatred between the ardent supporters of each of the candidates drove a wedge between families, friends, and neighbors, such that, you could no longer espouse your opinion without fear of retribution and repercussion. The era of civilized debate and disagreement seemed to have come to an end. On election day, Hillary supporter’s started the evening jubilant and ended the night devastated; while Trump supporters went from guardedly optimistic to jubilant. However, the victory did not lessen the animosity and tempers flared all the more in the weeks between the election and the inauguration. There have been protests, boycotts, calls for martial law, and an ever-widening gulf between the major camps of this election. Indeed, to listen to the news and the talking heads, the nation as we know it is on the brink of a crisis on par with the civil war and it’s all the fault of whomever I voted against.
Simply put, the problem is perspective. We have lost sight of the “vanishing point” or the central focus that keeps the picture real and in balance. Rather than see people as individual human beings, who have value and purpose, we are told to classify them as with us or against us and shun and persecute those against us because they are irreparably and irredeemably bad. That mindset of dehumanizing those who think differently and hating them keeps people clicking on links and watching outlandish commentators, but it dehumanizes us in the process. It makes us so self-righteous and so self-focused that we begin to see our fellow human beings as merely here to make our lives better, and when they don’t they are to be thrown out into the darkness. We abandon the rule of “do unto others what you would have them do unto you” and replace it with “if you don’t agree with me, get out.” This leads to a very isolated, unhappy life, filled with gloom, darkness and emptiness, and all because of being so caught up in the manufactured sideshow, we lose perspective.
So, to correct this, let’s put a few things back in perspective. First, we elected a President, not an emperor or a king. If he screws things up, the longest he’ll be in office would be 8 years and our countrymen seem to be pretty good about maintaining a healthy tension between the elected President and the elected legislature. When the President has done things the public doesn’t approve of or like, the opposition generally gains a greater measure of control. We only have to look at the gains by the Democrats during the Bush years and the gains by the Republicans over the past 8 years. This strategic balance has served us for over 200 years and will continue to serve us. Second, our lives today are pretty good. We have jokes about “first world problems” specifically because we have moved so far past the problems our ancestors had to face. While millions spend each day of their lives in a struggle to have enough food and water, we run through drive thru, ordering more food than we need and we get aggravated if it takes more than a couple of minutes to get our order to us. There are many other examples, but you get the point. Third, we are a fairly tolerant and loving society. While millions of Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Daoists, and members of other religions are being persecuted to the point of death, we have made religious observation so commonplace and acceptable that we have lost an appreciation for it, and have relegated it to the same status as a bowling league or trivia night at the pub.
I want to wrap with a couple of thoughts on how to maintain your perspective. First, limit your exposure to the punditry and the chattering classes on both sides. What you feed into your mind begins to color your understanding, so take a page from Paul in Philippians 4:8 where he says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Don’t ignore the news, just don’t let it dominate your thoughts. Second, follow Sergeant Hulka’s advice from the movie Stripes and “Lighten up, Francis.” Not every headache is an indicator of a tumor and not every fear has to be entertained and nurtured into worry or panic. Paul talks about that too in 4:6 and 7. Third, remember that you, unlike most dogs, can understand the concept of time. Good and bad things are cyclical, but all things pass over time. This, too, shall pass. Finally, find something every day to laugh or smile at, because, laughter and smiling is a balm when times are hard and a joy when times are good.
So, a grasshopper goes into a bar and orders a beer. The bartender looks at him and says, “you know, we have a drink named after you.” The grasshopper looks at him with surprise and says “you have a drink called Irving?” For those who laughed, I am sure you feel better, and for those who groaned, see, this too, passed….