Provision #589: Election Energy

Laser Provision

Have you heard about the election between Barack Obama and John McCain? 🙂 I was pleased to see so many people, on both sides of the aisle, getting engaged by this unique opportunity. To say that it was “energizing” is an understatement. Yet that’s exactly what it takes to become fully alive. If you have been lacking passion, direction, and understanding in life, then there’s no better time than today to turn things around. Get involved. Act on your convictions. Make a statement. And, for goodness sake, vote!

LifeTrek Provision

The week before the 2008 Presidential election, I was talking with a 58-year-old friend who confessed to me, rather sheepishly, that he had never voted in an election before. This from a man whose son is serving in active duty in the US military. His rationale in years past? He didn’t see all that much difference between the two parties and the two candidates. Since he didn’t really care who won, he didn’t bother to vote.

Now, however, he told me that he was going to the polls, for the first time in his life, to vote for Barack Obama. His rationale now? He wanted to register his complaint against what he saw as a fundamentally immoral war. “It is not the American way,” he told me, “to invade countries on false pretenses and to torture prisoners of war. Bad intelligence led to bad decisions and bad practices. It’s time to hold accountable the party of George W. Bush. Barack Obama may or may not be up to the task,” he concluded, “but justice must be served, come what may.” Without realizing it, my friend almost sounded like Abraham Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address.

I share that story with you not so much to make a case statement for Barack Obama as to marvel at the energy this election is generating in the United States of America and around the world. We have all heard about energized constituencies, such as under-30 voters or African-American voters, but if this election is getting 58-year-old white men to vote for the first time in their lives, it is truly doing something remarkable: it is filling people with life.

Philosophers have long reflected on what makes us uniquely human. Ren• Descartes put it this way in 1644: “Cogito ergo sum.” “I think, therefore I am.” That theme has been around at least since Plato and Aristotle. Self-awareness is the lever than can move the world. “Archimedes used to demand just one firm and immovable point in order to shift the entire earth;” Descartes wrote in his Meditations on First Philosophy, “so I too can hope for great things if I manage to find just one thing, however slight, that is certain and unshakable.

This election is making a lot of people think and, as a result, it is making a lot of people come alive. Rightly or wrongly, it is perceived that this is not the same old, same old. Instead, people are getting energized, like my friend, who have never been energized before.

Descartes was right to “hope for great things” once people started thinking for themselves. That is the principle that guides our work as coaches. We assist people to stop making excuses, to stop playing the victim, to stop being apathetic, and to think for themselves. I’m glad my friend has finally found his voice and, after 58 years, has finally decided to vote. “Sentio ergo sum.” “I vote, therefore I am.”

The Latin word “sentio” has rich overtones when it comes to being fully alive. Not only does the word mean to render a decision, or to vote, in the legal sense, it also means “to feel, perceive; to experience, feel the force of a thing; to realize a truth; to hold an opinion, judge, suppose.” It is the root of the English word “sentience,” the quality or state of being conscious, aware, attuned, perceptive, and emotionally engaged. “Sentio ergo sum” is probably closer to the truth than “cogito ergo sum.”

What’s been happening with your awareness lately? If it’s been stimulated by the US election, if you’re having conversations that you don’t usually have and if you’re reading things that you don’t usually read, then you’re probably feeling more alive. I know I am.

You’re also participating in that great movement called democracy. The opposite of democratic is not republican; the opposite of democratic is aristocratic. “Democratic” means rule of the people, the “demos” in Greek, while “aristocratic” means rule of the best, the “aristos”. The tensions between the two forms of government led, in part, to the creation of the Electoral College in the US Constitution (Article 2, Section 1) and the 12th Amendment. There wasn’t just the matter of logistics. There was also a concern that the people, the “demos”, could not be fully trusted to directly elect the President and Vice-President of the United States. The Electoral College became the mediating body, representing the people while looking out for the best.

There was then no end of outrage when the 2000 presidential election came down to a split decision of the Supreme Court, handing George W. Bush the election at the hands of the Electoral College while losing the popular vote. Did the Electoral College select the best leader possible? My friend who has now decided to vote regrets having sat out that election because, he believes, the course of history would have been very different if Al Gore had been president after September 11, 2001. “We would have never invaded Iraq in the first place,” he asserted, “because there would have been no other agenda than tracking down the perpetrators of the crime.”

We’ll never know, of course, but in this case my friend believes that the aristocracy did us and the world no favors. Even though he chose to sit out the election, my friend trusts more in the will of the people than in the will of the Court. He is a democrat in the original sense of the word.

What about you? Who do you trust more? What do you do on Election Day? When I see the long lines in early voting, and I hear the reports of record turnout on Election Day, I know that many, many people are feeling the energy of the moment. They have become sentient beings: feeling the force of a thing, realizing a truth, and holding an opinion. There’s nothing that serves as more of a wakeup call than that.

I know from personal experience. Many people ask me why I write Provisions every week and, again, why I run so many miles every week. The answer to both questions is the same: I feel the force of a thing. Writing Provisions is my way to stimulate and sort out my thoughts. It is, for me, a weekly journal that animates my very being. That would be true even if no one read these Provisions, but it’s especially true knowing they are read by something of a small fan club.

This past week, for example, I received a present in the mail from a friend who I have not seen in more than 20 years. I had no idea he was even receiving Provisions, let alone reading them. Here was his note to me: “Thanks for keeping me on your LifeTrek list. I think you will enjoy this book by Tim Russert (Wisdom of Our Fathers). Feel free to pass it on when you are done.” Can you feel the force of that thing? It was a simple enough note, but coming out of the blue from someone I knew so long ago reaffirmed my decision to keep on writing Provisions. “Sentio ergo sum.”

So, too, with running. I have no idea who it touches, but I know it touches me. Right now I am mustering the strength to get into tip-top shape and to qualify, for the third time, for the Boston Marathon. Every five years they give you a slower qualifying time, and twice now I have risen to that challenge. It’s time to go again and even though that means losing a few pounds and training harder, I am looking forward to the effort. It has become a rhythm that keeps me on track. I was especially encouraged when a friend called recently to say that he had qualified, for the first time, for the 2009 Boston Marathon. His joy was overflowing on the phone.

Can you feel the force of that thing? Getting fully engaged in something meaningful, whether that be the election, writing, running, or whatever suits your fancy, is the stuff that makes life worth living. Don’t sit on the sidelines and watch them go by like my friend did for 58 years. Instead, step up to the plate and take a full swing. Certainly, get out and vote. “Sentio ergo sum.” You and the rest of the world will be glad you did.

Coaching Inquiries: What things make your life worth living? How fully do you pursue those things? What does it take to get you excited? How could you share that energy with the world? Who could be your partner on the journey?

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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..

I loved the “Probably no God?” Provision • great education and historical perspective. Thanks.

Wow! What a great Provision! You are right that the title was thought provoking enough to entice me to read on. You have really given me lots to think about . Using Lincoln was brilliant. I am intrigued to apply this reasoning to my own wrestles and see how it holds up. Thank you for igniting my week with such great brain fuel.

After reading your Provision, “Probably no God?”, the thought that comes to me is St. Augustine’s 4th century, famous phrase from his book, “City of God”, that “we don’t understand in order to believe, but that we believe in order to understand.” Dawkins’ comment that “thinking is anathema to religion” is probably true, in the sense that we have to accept God’s word in faith, which in my mind is believing in something that we can’t understand. However, I think all of us try to make sense of life in the context of our beliefs, me included.

As far as God not being a judge, I can’t accept that. I think the Old Testament is full of examples. In my opinion, Jesus’ teachings (i.e., Matthew 25:31) and St. Paul’s teachings support God’s judgment. Of course God is more than that. God is understanding, love, fear and much more. The trap for all of us is to construct a God of our own understanding. In Isaiah, God says that His ways are not our ways, and our understanding is not His understanding.

I don’t think we will understand God in this life, but we are called by faith to believe that God is real and in charge. For me that gives me joy and I don’t worry. And I don’t have to be an atheist as Dawkins suggests. (Ed. Note: There are other texts that suggest a more universalist interpretation of Jesus’ life and work. See, for example, John 12:32. It is, indeed, the limitations of our own understanding that makes the divine Understanding so profoundly different and unsettling. Thanks for your engagement with my Provision.) 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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