I can’t tell you how many times I wrote this week’s essay, only to change the topic again and again as the week unfolded. I shifted gears each time the news headlines exploded, leaving me and everyone I spoke to shaking our heads. It seemed that all of us were fixated and obsessing on what was going on out there and didn’t want to talk about anything but.
For some of us, it was speculation about tomorrow’s first of three campaign debates. The anticipation and the buildup remind me of the excitement leading up to the three Ali-Frazier heavyweight fights. Others of us were hyper-focused on Charlotte and Tulsa, anti-police protests, racial injustice. For still others, it was all Brangelina all the time — did he really and did she really and what about the kids?
All these very intense stories sucked the air out of the atmosphere all week long, and I found myself wondering: What do they all have in common? Well, what they have in common is that they’re all about blowups and conflicts and anger and loss.
And that made me think of the essay I wrote last week, which was about the need for all of us to sometimes just stop and reflect — reflect on what we’re doing, saying, and thinking. Stop the racing and the running and the gossiping and blabbing, turn the focus inward, and start reflecting on our own selves. So I did.
My reflection brought up the empathy I have for Charlotte and for all of us who feel we can and must do better healing our racial divide. Reflection brought up the empathy I have for a very public couple’s children, who are caught in a public nightmare. And the campaign debate? I wish we would all stop obsessing about the knockout we’re hoping we’ll see in this debate and focus instead on what we ourselves are doing to make this country a better one.
It’s easy to sit back in our ringside seats and pontificate. It’s easy to cheer as our “opponent” gets whipped. It’s easy to complain about our election choices. It’s easy to gossip about public people’s marriages. It’s easy to shake our fists as we watch what’s going on in Charlotte and Tulsa. But it’s harder, much harder, to pause and reflect about our own role in our communities, our cities, our country — what we ourselves are doing/saying/thinking to improve things.
Because if you’re sitting on the sidelines as a spectator, you never really know what it’s like in the ring. If you’re an onlooker, you’re not a participant. You have a running commentary unspooling in your head, and you feed it with input from TV and radio and the web and social media. It feels very busy. It feels like you’re “involved.” It feels like you’re taking action. But you’re not. You never make anything different or better. You just wait for the next story to blow up, so you can fix another batch of popcorn, sit back, and watch. Sit back and watch. Me, too.
I’m reflecting on the idea that maybe we’ve become a spectator nation. But you know what? As President Obama said, “Democracy isn’t a spectator sport.” You’ve got to get in the arena!
That’s what I’ve been thinking about this week. What about you?