Get a Life

To misquote an old saying: All politics and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Did you ever hang out with someone who seems to have one channel on his TV? He talks incessantly about the same thing. He’s always trying to stir up a discussion, or an argument, about that subject. How do you like spending time with him? You probably wish he would “get a life,” right?

Well, that might describe you, and me, if we become so wrapped up in the news of the day that people are tired of hearing us gab about it.

Worse, you might be so absorbed in what’s wrong with politics (or the country) that it’s fouling your mood, and sapping your joy.

If you really want to persuade people to adopt your ideas, this may seem counterintuitive, but you would do well to stop talking about them from time-to-time.

Live a normal life. Talk about sports, or food, or your children or your pets. Get a hobby (or better yet, a passion) that has nothing to do with politics. Take off at least one day a week from reading, watching or listening to news or discussions of the news. Take a walk in the park with your mate, and don’t talk about politics. Go to a ball game, concert, or convention, where politics has no role.

What Are You Trying to Do?

What is our real goal when we wish to persuade others to embrace our ideas?

Are we trying to create a swarm of political junkies? Or do we want a nation of liberty-lovers who make good neighbors?

If we are truly free, then we live that freedom, rather than merely talk about politics all of the time. 

We’re the happiness people. Love it. Live it. Get a life.

This may be exceedingly difficult because, for many of us, politics has become the only thing that really engages us. Someone once joked that politics is Hollywood for ugly people.

I say politics is fantasy football for governance geeks. 

Too many of us — present company included — have become so absorbed in politics, and in our pet issues, that we annoy others rather than attract them. What we perceive as passion about crucial ideas, many people see as unhealthy, even scary, mania.

This can even include people who agree with us on principles. I admit to being part of both groups at one time or another. As the years go by, I’ve lost interest in my political obsession, but never stopped believing in my principles. I’ve even become irritated when I hear my own political comrades incessantly lecture on topics about which I agree with them. 

Sometimes, I’m annoyed because my allies make our ideas stink to others through their sour demeanor and irksome approach. Other times, I’m just tired of talking about and hearing about politics.

Give It a Rest

My Nan, the lady who along with Pop brought up me and my brothers, had a great reaction when her four boys were engaged in prolonged argument.

She’d sigh deeply and say, “O, give it a rest.”

Nan’s “give it a rest” implied that even the debate topic was tired of us jawing about it.

I think of her often when I see folks who agree with me take hold of an issue like a puppy with a slipper and just keep tugging even after the game is clearly over.

Oddly enough, one of the ways we can become more effective at persuading others is to “give it a rest” from time-to-time. Talk about something else. Ask your friend what he’s doing these days, then let him talk…even if it doesn’t interest you in the least. Practice your listening skills. Perhaps if you actually listen you’ll find that almost any topic has a fascination all its own.

By giving him the floor, so to speak, you honor him, and you give him a rest from your tedious habit of talking politics 24/7. As a result, you make him more likely to respect and listen to you later when the topic of politics arises.

Doubtless I have stepped on some toes here. If it’s any comfort, I try to stomp on my own first before I bruise yours.

Nan’s “give it a rest” phrase also holds musical connotations. One of the most dramatic notes in the composer’s toolkit is not a note at all. It’s a rest. Some of the greatest moments in music happen in the gaps — the silence that adds drama and enhances dynamics.

So, give the movement a boost, by giving it a rest.

Engaging in other aspects of life, and having different kinds of conversations, brings richness and texture to your own experience. It also makes you more fun and interesting to be around.

If you “get a life,” you won’t become one of those people others dodge because they “just don’t want to get into all of that again.”

Instead, when they see you coming, they’ll smile, and eagerly anticipate your conversation.

When someone tells you to “get a life” it means that whatever you’re jabbering about, or worrying over, is tedious, annoying, or boring. The phrase is a blunt (sometimes lighthearted) way of telling you that the things that have you all knotted up are not worth your time, or theirs. Unfortunately for us, the people who want us to “get a life” usually don’t say so to our faces. And we’re so caught up in our little world, that we don’t pick up on the nonverbal cues that indicate they want to get away.

In the context of WinSome, “get a life” also serves to remind us that our ideology is not a theoretical exercise. Our principles are not a Powerpoint presentation or a TED Talk. The essence of our God-given, unalienable rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” is the enjoyment of all three. If we merely speak of these as concepts, but don’t actually live them out, then our doctrine is hollow. It’s a game that few enjoy.

If the only happiness you pursue is the rush you get from debating politics, you’ve missed the point of politics. If disatisfaction with politics, politicians and policy are your all-consuming passion, then you’ve made politics the point of life.

It should be quite the opposite: life is the point of politics.

It will never be perfect, but a happy society, or at least one where a person may pursue her own happiness, is the result of good politics, made possible by civil dialogue. Good politics happen more often among a people who pursue happiness, enjoy life, and live the freedom with which God has blessed us.

It reminds me of Jesus speaking to people who have become caught up in the rules and regulations they believe will make them right with God. It was a heavy burden not only to fulfill the law, but to spend your time debating it, and pointing out the shortcomings of those who disagree or who fail to comply. But Jesus said, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest….my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” [Matthew 11:28,30]

Jesus also said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” [John 10:10]

So here’s the God/Man telling us that the point of life is to live it. It’s not a burden, it’s a joy. It’s not a classroom exercise. It’s out on the playground, out in the field, out in the woods, out in the marketplace, among friends, family and strangers.

Atomic Sales

When I go to work in the retail store, I have fun meeting new people, sharing laughter, helping them to improve their lives just a little bit. In return, they help me to do the same.

This sales interaction is capitalism at the atomic level. It’s the essence of our free-market system. But I don’t lecture my customers on what economist Adam Smith called the “invisible hand” of free markets, or the virtuous cycle that results from each person pursuing his own interests in a way that blesses others. I don’t interrupt our transaction with a three-point diatribe about how the natural division of labor, and global markets, have made this sofa both affordable and durable —creating high-paying American jobs, while allowing people in less-developed countries to enjoy a better standard of living, and thus becoming a marketplace for American goods and services.

I don’t have to say any of that to my customer. We just do it. We live it. The ideas that have extended life expectancy, reduced childhood disease, eased suffering, fed billions of people, and opened new and fascinating vistas of exploration for humanity — all of these are encapsulated in this simple sales transaction between me, and that wide-eyed couple who just bought their first home.

The best argument that I can make for the macro-concept of free markets is to help them enjoy the micro-process of this single sale as much as possible. I’m not merely selling a sofa. I’m selling an idea that has changed the world for the better in innumerable ways. But I don’t have to talk about it to sell it.

Just as a joke rarely gets funnier with explanation, our ideas and values are best told experientially.

I’ve long loved the quote from Henry David Thoreau who wrote, “…if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.

Thoreau was speaking of his adventure in the woods, not in the library. He went to the woods. He lived there. He learned there.

To “get a life” means to apply what you believe to how you behave, rather than just to talk about it.

In the end, you become a much better spokesman for your ideas when your primary communication tool is a life well-lived because of those ideas.