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Part of the problem in politics today is that everyone is too invested in their own decisions. Nobody is able to just let it go. Nobody is able to deal with the fact that a decision might not go their way. Which really makes no sense because most of the decisions we make are only educated guesses anyway. This means that while we are entitled to our own opinions, if a decision is ultimately made opposite to what we would have wanted, it may not be worth all of the mental anguish and persistent political fighting we engage in when we were never really sure in the first place of the “rightness” of our decision or the magnitude of the difference in results between our decision and that of the opposing side. It is as if people say to themselves, “I know what’s best and if I don’t get my way the world will end.”
A perfect example is the response to the COVID resurgence in parts of the US (and it is not far different here in Israel). There are two extreme opinions operating here: One says sacrifice the economy in order to save as many lives as we can; the other says sacrifice the elderly (and younger with preexisting conditions) in order to save the economy. With regard to each of these positions, each person can make an educated guess as to what is the right path, but do any of us really know for sure? What ought to happen is – because we are a representative democracy and we have elected leaders whom we have chosen to make such decisions – that once a decision has been made we all get on board and try to do the best we can. After all, who really knows what the best approach is anyway? But instead it has become politicized, with the more liberal news outlets wanting to use masking, social distancing, and delaying opening up the economy in order to stop the virus; while the more conservative news outlets want to open up the economy faster, putting less emphasis on measures to stop the virus. Furthermore, the conservative news outlets accuse the liberals of wanting to harm the economy on purpose because a bad economy will help them in the upcoming presidential election. The liberal news outlets accuse the conservatives of only caring about money and the economy even if people are dying, etc. Thus the discussion morphs into a fight over motives, each ascribing hate, rage, dishonesty etc to the other, all the while employing those same tactics themselves because they feel they have no choice. Each side sees the situation as life or death, reinforcing the delusion that they have no choice but to fight back as hard as possible. In the resulting life or death fight there can be no compromise.
But if you zoom out for just a second, you see that the original issue was not the evil motives of the other side, or how they can’t be trusted to make decisions because all they care about is getting their people elected – the original issue was how best to deal with the virus, and neither option was very good (either sacrificing the economy or sacrificing the elderly.) And we’re not even sure which will turn out to result in less total harm anyway. The whole thing is just an educated guess. Once the decision has been made, even if its not the one I agree with, perhaps I should just trust that we are doing our best, instead of ascribing the most evil motives to everyone else and trying in a life or death way to constantly sabatoge the other side in a continued attempt to win at all costs. (I mean, I thought that’s what democracy was supposed to be anyway – that we all debated and discussed, even argued, about the issues, and then we put it to a vote. And whatever side won, that was the decision. That’s just what we did. We all got on board with it because we had democratically decided to embark on that course of action. And clearly the action we decided on together would be more successful, which is supposed to be what we all want, if we all work together on it.)
In other words, people care too much that their side wins. I wonder what would happen if people had a bit more faith – whether that would make the act of caring less about their side wining more easily attainable. It could be faith in God, but it could just be faith in our country, faith in our fellow human beings, or faith that things just have a way of working out in the end. This is not just a lament that people care more about partisan politics rather than the overall good of the country; what I am suggesting is that it may be specifically the aforementioned lack of faith in anything other than themselves which causes people to attach such undo importance to their own opinions and actions.
Rabbi Berel Wein has a parable about when he was in the airport one day riding the up-escalator and he saw a person a few steps in front of him clutching his bags in his hands, holding them in the air, just off of the surface of the moving escalator. He thought to himself, “why don’t you put your bags down on the escalator? It’s going up anyway – you don’t have to hold them yourself the whole way up.” He goes on to explain that its like that with God. We don’t always have to worry so much that we have to carry every single thing ourselves. There is a plan, and sometime we can “put it on God,” let him carry some of the load, so to speak. It doesn’t all depend only on us. So you didn’t get your way this time – let God sort it out. But don’t go crazy trying to undo what has already been done out of some misguided fear that you’re the only one that can remedy the situation or the whole world will explode. In the grand scheme of things, maybe you and your opinions are just not that important. Obviously this is from a religious perspective, but I think the same rationale works even from a secular viewpoint. One can be secular and still believe in something – karma, the country, humanity, the cosmos, etc.
This may sound like ridiculous political advice; to simply give up all the time. What happened to the advice to stick up for what you believe in? Or to not compromise on your principles? Or to never give up the fight for what you know is right? Perhaps in this regard we can learn from the way medical guidelines are promulgated. In cardiology, each medical guideline is labeled with a two part label which describes the strength of the recommendation. For example, the recommendation to give aspirin to someone having a heart attack is a “class I, level of evidence A” recommendation, meaning that it is the strongest possible recommendation, with uniform agreement among the physicians on the guideline committee and that the evidence to back up this claim is based on several large, randomized, controlled trials. A class IA recommendation is the strongest recommendation there is. Contrast that with a “class IIb, level of evidence C” recommendation, which means that some doctors favor the treatment while some argue against it, and the recommendation is based only on expert opinion but no actual trial data – a much weaker overall recommendation.
The problem with politics is that most of our recommendations are only “class IIb, level of evidence C.” They just aren’t that strong. We don’t really know for sure if our plan is really better than our opponent’s, and even if it is better, we don’t really know what the margin is – how much better it really is. Because even if we’re right and our plan is better, if its only better by a small amount then there might be little practical significance to it anyway. When we’re unsure of both the correctness of our position and the magnitude of its supposed benefit, then by what right do we continue fighting long after the decision has already been made? Perhaps we should all be more aware of the actual and often limited strength of the recommendations we are making, and have the faith and courage to allow ourselves to accept decisions once they have been made. Political discourse and I suspect our country as a whole would be much better off for it.