Maybe these are topics we tend to avoid. We all know and like people who have different political views than we do. But on the eve of Election Day in the US, I was moved to create this illustration and forward it to the Obama Campaign to do with it as they see fit.
These last few weeks have been the first in my life where I've felt truly angered by politics. I think this is because I feel there's a lot on the line for the two little people I love most in the world.
I really admire people in public service. There are some standouts: Eleanor Roosevelt and yes, Obama among them. I think Obama is a dogged, devoted, determined worker who is so busy keeping his nose to the ground, so busy with the substance of his work, that he sometimes forgets - or spends less time on - the surface of it. What I mean is: for all he's accomplished, we've only recently heard him tell us about it. It's this humility, a quality which costs him as a politician (in the first debate, for example) which I personally particularly admire in him. This spinning, this 'marketing' is what he dislikes most about his job. He believes that if his work is good, it will be recognized as such, that he will not have to tie it up and present it to us in pretty packages ...
He respects people enough to make their own judgments, while people seem increasingly desperate to piggyback on the judgments of others (think: big media, big brands, celebrities ...)
BTW, speaking of celebrities, did anyone else nearly die laughing when Obama's opening line at the Al Smith Dinner was: "Please, please, take your seats. Please ... otherwise Clint Eastwood will start yelling at them!"
Anyway, back to this idea of substance and surface. I think we all go back and forth in our work (and in our lives?), between the actual doing of it on the one hand and the describing of it on the other. Some of us enjoy one aspect more than the other. Sometimes, it seems that those who focus on the latter get ahead with cheap shots and simplifications.
But for those of us who love the work itself, the rest can feel like an afterthought. We want to do the work, not talk about it. As Ryan Miller sings lamentingly in my new favorite song Big Machine: "People push a lot of air around ... but don't say much of anything."
For me, humility is a quality I was taught to esteem in the highest. When I was studying for my MFA at NYU and had to write a long paper about teaching philosophy, I consulted my Dad, who has almost 40 years experience in this most noble of professions. His cornerstone has always been 'humility for the subject' (or substance, I guess you could say). That has stuck with me ever since.
This also comes into play in the creative process, where our end of the deal is just to show up, to hope that we will have the opportunity, at that sitting, to be the channel of some greater power or inspiration. If you do not recognize your humility in that process, then you are simply not open to it.
And if public service can be seen as a creative activity, don't you want leaders who are humble and open, facilitating but not forceful?
(I'm sorry. I do have to say I love alliteration and may have gone overboard in this post :))
To that I would also add conviction, a word that has meant a lot to me lately. Whatever your work is, whatever your substance is, do it with conviction. Make a commitment to it. When it's not going your way, when you're questioning its worth or value, commit to it all the more. It will prove itself to you. Maybe not always in the short term, but certainly in the long term.
That is why Michelle Obama says that the role of President hasn't changed who Barack is, it has revealed who he is. Because his conviction, his commitment to his values, ethics and moral code have been constant, as you can see here.
So, besides a better world for our daughters, I think these values are on the line tomorrow. Americans have, in my eyes, a choice between substance and surface, between humility and hubris, between conviction/consistency and ... hmmm ... confusion/inconsistency (??? ... keeping with my alliterative theme).
As a US citizen living abroad in Europe, I can attest that at least this continent is watching closely, to see where America will lead the world next.