I’ve always thought that it’s too easy to call it a “responsibility” to vote in elections. Surely this responsibility must include the act of trying to make an informed choice, and trying to be a constructive force in the discourse where the people choose their representatives? I’ve set up a 4-points program, for myself and for you reading, to achieve this:
- Discuss instead of debating. The goal in a debate is usually to “win”. Therefore, one can - instead of listening and reflecting - look for holes in the arguments of the opponent, and prepare for one’s turn to talk. A debate can also presuppose that you have a well-thought-out position to make an argument for, which you hardly have, as it’s actually complicated to think. Discussions, with humility and openness, can be much better suited for achieving a higher level of understanding - a wise starting point in a conversation.
- Distance yourself from external influences. Turn off news and media feeds, and think instead of consuming thoughts. Maybe write a few lines about your reflections on society, the election, and your role in it all. Also be careful when participating in groups or moving through crowds, as it can be easy to get swept along; marching in step, applauding in unison, and communicating in an echoing environment. The individual's integrity is an antidote to this. That we in the western world have the right to vote can be seen as a reflection of individual sovereignty.
- Understand that people are more alike than different and that we can benefit from each other's differences. For example, political inclination seems to depend, among other things, on partly innate and stable psychological personality traits: Liberal people are generally more creative (trait openness to experience) and conservative people are generally more orderly (trait conscientiousness). Both these temperaments are valid; we may need innovation to explore new ideas, but also stability to implement these ideas - on an individual level and on a societal level. Of course, it’s convenient to analyze a conflict as binary, and categorize people in one of the two sides - where one's own "side" is "right" - but such division doesn’t take the individual and his potentially valuable insight into account.
- Reflect on the following: The individual - you - is the potential hero and anti-hero. The Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn expresses this best in my opinion: “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart”. Rarely have my ears experienced words that ring as true as these. Furthermore, it reminds me of the words of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius: “...the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own - not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine”. Do we all possess a "divine" power to turn potential into reality, which we can use to do good and evil?
We must spend our time and energy on something more meaningful than logging in to Twitter to endlessly debate strangers about politics outside our zone of expertise, updating our Facebook profile to undeservedly flag our numerous supposed moral virtues, or creating unnecessary conflict with family and friends as a result of political bickering. I believe that the act of voting is deeper than putting a piece of paper in a box every few years. I believe that social responsibility presupposes personal responsibility over one’s own life: If you’re a person who has experience in the real world, who can analyze arguments and speak one’s being forward, you’re a person with important competencies to not make stupid moves. I hope that these proposals can contribute to a somewhat more sane and enlightened pursuit of a better society.