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Heavy Meddle: Wanted: Lonely Idealist Seeks Same

"At the age of 29, I seem to be the only one of my friends who feels anything but apathy." (Kimberlyki/flickr)MoreCloseclosemore
"At the age of 29, I seem to be the only one of my friends who feels anything but apathy." (Kimberlyki/flickr)

Welcome Meddleheads, to the column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions via email. Right now. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.

Hugs,

Steve

Dear Steve,

I’m someone who follows politics actively, gets a thrill out of voting, being selected for jury duty and other citizenry perks. At the age of 29, I seem to be the only one of my friends who feels anything but apathy to government and an overwhelming disillusionment toward the responsibilities that come with organized communities. Is there any hope to sway them my way, or am I the one who needs a reality check?

Signed,

The Lonely Idealist

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Dear Lonely Idealist,

By way of making you feel less alone, I want to tell you a little story about how we roll in the Almond household.

Half a dozen years ago, on election day 2008, we brought our daughter, who had just turned two years old, to our local precinct. We were kind of elated, because we were helping to choose a new leader, and, for us, this involved simply walking to a nearby school gym (heated, safe, full of friendly volunteers and delicious baked goods) and checking in and filling out a ballot. And that turns out to be a big deal, because in a lot of countries, the people don’t get to vote at all, and the transfer of power winds up resulting in a lot of chaos and bloodshed.

But for us lucky American citizens, it was just a hopeful little errand, and our daughter, who picked up on our excitement in the obsessive way of all 2-year-olds, began chanting the name of the candidate we had voted for (at the top of her lungs), a name I will not mention, because that’s not really the point. The point is that this was such a thrilling event for us, as a family, that it remains our daughter’s first vivid life memory.

So no, you are not crazy to feel excited about voting, or fulfilling your jury duty. On the contrary, what’s crazy is that so many of our citizens have become so entitled and jaded as to completely take for granted the gifts of American citizenship. There’s a reason people from so many countries want to come to America and become citizens — that some are willing to leave behind everything they know and work at degrading jobs or even die simply for the chance.

And it isn’t just because our junk food is so delicious, or because we have such nice bathroom fixtures. It has to do with what you call, kind of adorably, “citizenry perks.” Little things like due process and fair and open elections and civil rights and property rights and clean food and water.

Don’t give up hope! Being a citizen of this country is a beautiful, even miraculous, privilege.

I realize that lots of people (such as your friends) don’t think about these perks much, because they’re probably too busy complaining about the sandwich they got at lunch, which had hardly any aioli on it. And I could deliver a long, boring lecture about why I think this is — hint: corporations do better when we regard ourselves solely as consumers — but you don’t need a lecture from me. What you need is a pep talk.

Don’t give up hope! Being a citizen of this country is a beautiful, even miraculous, privilege. We should honor it, both in our words and deeds.

I wish your friends felt as you do. And I do think it’s worth speaking your mind on this subject. But I wouldn’t count on being able to sway your pals. People generally don’t like to be lobbied, and they especially don’t like to be made to feel guilty.

A better solution might be to seek out the company of other folks who do share these values. You don’t have to go so far as to volunteer at your local voting precinct. But heck, you could! Or you could get involved with politics on a local level, start attending public meetings, volunteer to do some community service. In other words, rather than feel like an outcast, find your tribe.

If it means anything, Lonely, I was heartened by your note. Apathy — that lazy cousin of cynicism — is really just a form of giving up. It’s harder to lead a life of civic engagement, not simply withdraw into your various purchases. Hope always brings the risk of disappointment. But it’s also a deeper and richer way of living.

Keep at it.

Onward, together,

Steve

Okay folks, now it's your turn. Did I get it right, or muck it up? Let me know in the comments section. And please do send your own question along, the more detailed the better. Even if I don't have a helpful response, chances are someone in the comments section will. Send your dilemmas via email.

Steve Almond is the author of the book "Against Football." He is the co-host, with Cheryl Strayed, of the WBUR podcast, Dear Sugar.

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