Enchanting Politics

Originally posted at Writeindependent.org on November 1, 2011

enchantment – enchanting – politics – Thomas Moore – Benjamin Franklin virtues

I know, I know. It sounds like an oxymoron: enchanting politics. So let me make an argument for why politics could be, and should be enchanting.

The premiere expert in enchantment might be Thomas Moore, author of The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life, among other books dealing with the soul. His definition of enchantment is: “the transhuman voice or music rising from deep within nature or culture that seizes us with awe and spellbinding pleasure.” I have to admit; that’s about as far from how politics makes me feel most days.

Here is the problem: there is no soul in politics anymore. It is so devoid of anything real or essential, that it makes us cringe or recoil or even worse, it angers us.

In a perfect world, a person is called to civil service because he or she feels compelled to care for his/her community. If a politician spoke from his heart, it would stop us in our tracks and make us listen for a change. Instead, they often talk trash about the opponent or the “other party”, they memorize and spout talking points, they go for image rather than substance, and when they don’t know the answer, they fake their way through rather than admitting weakness.

We’re so used to hearing balderdash, we assume it isn’t worth listening anymore.

It is no wonder we are disenchanted with our politicians. They have become disenchanting.

What I would love to see is someone who shares their core sensibilities; what got them into public service and their mission in life as a result. Since politics is about serving community, then how do they see themselves fulfilling their life’s calling? And what makes them think they were called into the limelight to begin their careers as a politician?

Nowadays, when anyone comes out and says that we need to be more responsible or that congress has been behaving badly, we think they’re some kind of hero. It should be the lowest common denominator to have people in congress who speak the truth.  Instead, when somebody finally says something that might favor the greater good, we get all excited over them because it’s so rare.

All of us eventually need to become political, if we are to have a life of meaning. If we are so lucky to have a long life, we reach a point of wanting to contribute to society, even if it means being a salt-of-the-earth example to others by striving to be virtuous.  Benjamin Franklin worked at becoming a virtuous “full man” by practicing 13 tenets (http://dan.hersam.com/philosophy/franklin_virtues.html). It might be a good starting place for those politicians who seem to have lost their way.

A friend of mine was distraught by my suggestion that politics should be enchanting. She said that community efforts don’t always involve politics. By my definition, anything involving community was political. She gave the example of a man who ran the corner convenience store. Everyone knew him; he often gave kids free food, the parents would let him hold keys for them, he said a cheerful “hi” to passers by, and kept tabs for customers who weren’t holding cash. She insisted that he provided a community service without being political.

The problem is in thinking that politics is somehow separate from community; that it governs the people, and lords its policies over us. Instead, if we realized, as the ancient Greeks did, that a divine spirit held together our communities, we wouldn’t confer so much power to politicians, since they are only a small part of a larger endeavor.

To my friend, I say: from a quiet and reserved place, contemplate the sacred and spiritual aspect of communion. The next time you experience holiness during a community endeavor, you are on your way to bringing back enchantment to political life.

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