At birth, all of us begin a journey that offers opportunities either to grow - not just physically, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually - or to stagnate. The journey we undertake lasts a lifetime, but there are dozens of moments each day when we have a choice to make tiny incremental gains in experience, wisdom and compassion or to calcify through inertia, complacency and selfishness.
No one can be engaged and receptive all the time. But it is important to recognise these small opportunities for growth when they present themselves, even if at any particular moment we may decide to avoid grasping them.
When we shut ourselves into the car on the commute to work, do we use it as a moment to be alone with our thoughts or to silence them with the radio or music? When we sit with friends, do we choose to be fully present with them or scroll through the news feed on our phones? When we return from a difficult day at work, do we talk the issues through with family or reach for a glass of wine, or maybe bingewatch something on TV?
Everyone needs downtime, but if every opportunity for reflection becomes downtime then we are stagnating, not growing. We are moving away from life, from being human.
This week liberal Americans reached for that glass of wine and voted Joe Biden. Others did so much more reluctantly, spurred on by the fear of giving his opponent another four years.
Biden isn't over the finishing line quite yet, and there are likely to be recounts, court challenges and possibly violence over the result, but he seems all but certain to be crowned the next US president. Not that that should provoke any kind of celebration. The rest of the world's population, future generations, the planet itself - none of us had a vote - were always going to be the losers whichever candidate won.
The incumbent, Donald Trump, miscalculated, it seems, if he thought dismissing his opponent as "Sleepy Joe" would be enough to damage Biden's electoral fortunes. True, Trump was referring to the fact that Biden is a dried-out husk of the machine politician he once was. But after four years of Trump and in the midst of a pandemic, the idea of sleeping through the next presidential term probably sounded pretty appealing to liberals. Most of them have spent their whole political lives asleep.
Four years ago, however, they were forcibly roused from their languor to protest against Donald Trump. They grew enraged by the symptom of their corrupt political system rather than by the corrupt system itself. For them, "Sleepy Joe" was just what the doctor ordered.
But it won't be Biden doing the sleeping. It will be the liberals who cheerlead him. Biden - or perhaps Kamala Harris - will be busy making sure his corporate donors get exactly what they paid for, whatever the cost to the rest of us.. #FoolYourself.Anger and blame
In this analogy, Trump is not the opposite of Biden, of course. He represents stagnation too, if of a different kind.
Trump channels Americans' frustration and anger at a political and economic system they rightly see as failing them. He articulates who should be falsely blamed for their woes: be it immigrants, minorities, socialists, or the New World Order. He offers justified, if misdirected, rage in contrast to Biden's dangerous complacency.
But however awful Trump may be, at least some of those voting for him are grappling, if mostly unconsciously, with the tension between stagnation and growth - and not of the economic kind. Unlike most liberals, who dismiss this simplistically as "populism", some of Trump's supporters do at least seem to recognise that the tension exists. They simply haven't been offered a constructive alternative to anger and blame.Ritually disappointed
Unlike the liberals and the Trumpists, many in the US have come to understand that their political system offers nothing but stultifying stagnation for ordinary Americans by design, even if it comes in two, smartly attired flavours.
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