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The Power of the Long Game

Planting the right seeds, whether or not we live long enough to watch them come to fruition

What’s going on in our country?

So much rhetoric. So much impotent rage animating the snarky humor we seem addicted to these days. It’s like somewhere in the basement of our minds, we’ve resigned ourselves to the mess we’re in.

Saturday Night Live nailed it. This “ain’t nothin’ gonna happen” attitude is rampant and could well be our undoing. If this is what we believe, we will only lose.

Spoiler alert: We will all lose. Nobody is winning this game. It’s the wrong game to be playing anyway. Because even if ‘we’ won, it would only increase the divisions in our country. Those bitter disagreements don’t go away just because we got more votes. Also, given the recent revelations of our election system’s vulnerabilities, disinformation campaigns, and the fact that nobody trusts anyone anymore, there doesn’t seem to be any way out.

It occurs to me that this is because we might be looking for a way out by 2020, which is never going to happen. Too much damage has been done for way too long, way longer than the past couple years. Longer than the past decade, or even the past century.

What we need, now, is hope. Not lazy optimism, not pollyanna predictions, but real hope. The kind that lives at the center of long-range, moral integrity. The kind that animates countless people already working on our behalf.

There are politicians, judges, even senior officials in the current administration who, seeing injustice, are doing what they can to either correct it or at least bring it to light. There are anonymous civil servants of all political persuasions, poets, physicists, filmmakers, educators, engineers, writers, visionaries of all kinds who, seeing a problem, live their lives day by day into solutions. These people could not do what they do without hope.

"Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success…but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out."

Those words were spoken by the great Czech playwright turned dissident (and eventually president) Václav Havel. He was playing a long game. Against all odds, he became a voice for his people.

Let us shift our focus from away from just winning and toward doing what makes sense on a deeper level. Our actions might be the same, but they won’t be as easily dismissed if the winds blow another way for a while. They will eventually bear the fruit we intend, whether we live long enough to taste it or not.

If we only want to win (in any endeavor), we make ourselves vulnerable to the very corrupt behavior we abhor in others. We get desperate and adopt a “by any means” attitude, and we think it’s ok because it’s us. We think we’re the good guys, so we’ll know better.

But we won’t. Know better. If we go the “by any means” route, we’ve already lost. We’ll only be the ‘good guys’ to those who supported us. Which makes us just exactly like our enemies. And as long as we’re ‘us and them,’ we’ll be fighting. And as long as we’re fighting, there will only be victory and loss — one on one side, one on the other — not peace.

If, on the other hand, we do what makes sense no matter how things turn out, every day is a potent, organic seed in the ground of our grandchildren’s future. Every act of integrity is water on that seed. Everything we do in the face of an impossible outcome is sunshine on that seed.

Let’s plant those seeds. Today. Resist corruption? Yes! Agitate? Energize? Or course. But let all that effort be rooted in the hope that lived in the hearts of Václav Havel, Gandhi, Rachel Carson, Thich Nhat Hanh, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Let’s you and me play the long game.


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