The burden of American responsibility

I knew this day would come when I would be faced with the Election Day column.

I had imagined something would come to me and I’d have a convincing but heartfelt argument for my political choices. I just figured I would find the words.

The day is here, I’ve been desperate to find something that might inspire undecided voters or change the minds of decided ones, and nothing magically inspirational has occurred to me. What does occur to me is that perhaps this feeling of responsibility to say something meaningful is something in and of itself.

You’re probably sick to death of hearing about this election.

There have been TV ads, debates, SNL skits, late night talk show monologues and celebrity endorsements. You’ve heard from fellow columnists on various issues from various angles and various political ideologies. What more can be said?

As I struggle with this feeling of responsibility to represent my party and my viewpoint, I realize this is a responsibility we all carry. Whether you belong to a political party or not, you are nonetheless a walking representation of the fundamental ideals and values you hold, for good or ill. And that, understandably, can be a very heavy weight.

Americans vote both as individuals and as members of political parties, defined by both our alignment with a group and our deviation from it. Our cultural mindset is a kind of collective individualism. We belong to groups because we’re social creatures, but we highlight our differences because we are individuals. Our political system is this tension between individual and community.

The weight of responsibility that should be felt as each of us goes to the polls today is because of this tension. And that responsibility should not be limited to the act of voting. We should be aware of our role as individuals within a community not only in how we elect leaders but, just as importantly, in how we treat each other.

If your candidate doesn’t win today, that doesn’t mean you’re shut out of the process. It means you still have the power as an individual to influence your community. Our government is set up so that one person in the White House shouldn’t be able to change the whole country — that’s our job. His job is to protect our job.

Much of the rhetoric surrounding this election is the responsibility to vote, and that’s important. But it’s equally important to remember your responsibility simply as an individual in a country made up of other individuals.

You’re a U.S. citizen. You have the power to shape your government but, more fundamentally, you have the power to shape your own life and the lives of others. Remember that you are accountable for your values and actions.

That can feel unreasonable at times; humans are fallible, we all have our bad days, and we should remember that when confronted with the failures of others. However, while we sometimes might feel the weight of accountability to be a heavy burden, we should remember that we are given these responsibilities because we’re believed capable of handling them. And that’s empowering.

 

Reach the columnist at Esther.Drown@asu.edu or follow her at @EMDrown.

 

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