once we have exhausted all possible alternatives
“Like it or not, we are a part of the world.
What a crummy world if we all retreat inside our borders.”
“To quote a British observer of us from some years ago, bear with us, once we have exhausted all possible alternatives, the Americans will do the right thing.”
Throughout my life & career I have crisscrossed the country walking into mechanic shops, retail stores, supermarkets, numerous hotels/motels/inns and bars & restaurants.
I went to a public high school with a mostly agriculture student attendance and went to a college where the Crips and Hoover Family Blood patrolled the edges of the campus <and had a gang member stabbed 75 times in the alley behind my off campus apartment>.
In addition, I have received glimpses into the lives of Americans, rural/suburban/urban, behind the one way mirrors of research and face-to-face… in rural West Virginia & Kentucky, Wyoming, Ohio, Texas, Wisconsin, New York, California, New Mexico, Colorado and … well … pick your home and I have had a glimpse of your life.
I have met the least educated and the most educated <and you most likely would be surprised at how alike they are behind the façade of education> and felt hopeless at the hopelessness of some and found hope in the stories of those who had so much ‘no quit’ in them I felt less than worthy of my own efforts in Life.
I would suggest that what we all have in common in America is maddening. It is the fact we will exhaust all possible alternatives … and then, in most cases, do the right thing.
Love it or hate it … that is what we Americans do.
We are a stubborn folk we Americans. But I tend to believe the ‘exhausting all our alternatives’ is simply the same gauntlet we run time and time again … “I” to “we”.
What? Almost every single person when pushed into a corner <”no one puts Baby into a corner” type attitude> will defend what is possibly the most tried & true American ideal that every American in every corner of the country can pull out of their hip pocket – individual freedom. Freedom to think what I think, freedom to pray like I want to pray, freedom to say what I want to say, freedom to own a gun if I want, freedom to watch, do or go where I want.
Everything begins there.
That is the entrance to the gauntlet. And unlike Dante’s entrance to Hell which says “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate” — most frequently translated as “abandon all hope, ye who enter here” — the American entrance says “this way to something better.”
However, I feel compelled to point out that no matter how much you gussy up a gauntlet … it is still a gauntlet and while it may have some pretty pictures on the walls of the tunnel you are still gonna get the crap kicked out of you.
We don’t take the easy path. That’s just what we do. Despite the fact we talk about common sense or “the simplest is the best” incessantly … America inherently explores all and any alternatives, no matter how painful, until we arrive at what is right.
Mattis reminded me of this.
We never make it easy.
I will note Trump may add a painful dynamic to this characteristic but even without him … we exhaust ourselves as we exhaust all alternatives.
Here is the good news. Our history resides with arriving, ultimately, at the right thing. The arc of our gauntlet tunnel curves toward ‘doing the right thing’ versus ‘doing the wrong thing.’
I imagine my thought for today is twofold.
First is that there is no one person, or class of people, or type of person which ultimately places us in this ‘right thing’ place. This one place is arrived at by the fruits of labor of the many — out of many, one.
The second is that far too often we refer to the ‘many’, people, in demeaning or diminishing terms. We look at people who don’t think the way we do, people who voted for someone else or people who want to do something different than what we want to do as ‘stupid’ or ‘idiots’ or ‘ignorant.’ I can honestly say, having traveled the far corners of America, I would suggest we should maybe see other people as ‘good hearted’ or ‘well intended’ or ‘knows things I don’t know.’
I would also suggest that most people are willing to listen if you are respectful enough to listen to them.
I would also suggest that most people have a story and that story impacts how they think about things and how they decide what should be done with … well … “the we.”
I would suggest if we ever want to solve some problems we should think about this a little more often.
Which leads me back to where I began on the gauntlet.
Most people enter the gauntlet with an “I” perspective … even those who fully understand that we are a greater “we.”
We do so because we are part of America which is built upon individual freedoms and each of us value our personal choice. Amusingly <painfully so> it is that individual freedom which permits us the excruciating good conflict that not all the other “I’s” view their individual freedoms the same way. Therefore, the gauntlet is alternative after alternative in which we are painfully bludgeoned into understanding that the “I” makes some compromises for the greater “we”. In addition … we go through the excruciating painful conflict which permits us to see 99% of the other ‘many’ have good hearts, are not really idiots and know shit that we do not know.
We enter the gauntlet as an “I” and come out with a larger respect for the “we.” And it is that gauntlet which hones all the other alternatives into the one alternative which is ‘the right thing.’
Sometimes it helps to remind myself of this.
It helps especially when it doesn’t feel that way … especially when the Warrior Monk, James Mattis, is forced to say it out loud to non-Americans. Because, in my mind, just the fact he has to say it means that we all need to be reminded of it. And, maybe most importantly, as we think about this man … and his words … it permits us to reject the entire concept of “abandon hope all ye who enter” with all of us already who are in this concept called “America.”
It feels painful now. It feels more difficult than it has to be. It feels like there is even less alignment than maybe we had even a year ago.
But maybe it just feels like we are exploring all the alternatives along our way to exhaust all of them n our pursuit to the inevitable – Americans will do the right thing.
Good thought for the day. Well, at least, that is my thought for the day.