To say we live in a very complex world would be a gross understatement. Very few, if any, things in life are simple. Even the one most important role we have as citizens, voting, is far from simple — at least if we are going to take it seriously and do it right.
Which candidate to vote for has always been a loaded decision, but it surely seemed much simpler back when information sources were fewer and possibly more reliable. A hundred years ago people could read about candidates in newspapers and various other publications and may have an opportunity to hear a candidate speak in person or to meet them and have a face-to-face conversation. Now, we have print media, television, talk radio, and internet, including social media.
A few decades ago, it was easier to determine the level of credibility and bias in major news sources, but these days that is a monumental task. Not that long ago, no major news source would put out untruthful or heavily biased information for fear of losing credibility, but that no longer seems to be a concern. I cannot think of one news source that is anywhere near neutral.
Years ago, I read a book that discussed the “personality ethic” versus the “character ethic.” The simplest way to explain what these are is that the character ethic is based on who a person is at their core; for example, how they behave when no one is looking, versus whom a person appears to be by what they present to the world. There are lots of concepts and phrases that are related to this, like “beauty is only skin deep.” We all know at least a couple of people who, by all outward appearances, are bright, sunshine-y, happy, kind people but who can be veritable monsters once you get to know them well. We have all probably at least once in our lives been burned by one of these Jekyll/Hyde people. Of course, it is natural to be angry with the J/H person for deceiving us, but we should also put some of the blame on ourselves for relying upon the personality ethic to make our decisions rather than looking deeper at the person’s character.
In the face of the overwhelming amount of information that we are exposed to, the approach many of us take is to oversimplify the choice of which candidate gets our vote. One way to do this is to always vote for the same party. Another is to choose a single issue as a litmus test, like abortion, guns, or immigration. Yet another way to simplify is to choose whichever candidate you think you can stand to listen to and see pictures and videos of for the next four years — which is choosing based on the personality ethic. Or, choose the one you think the television news people will be the kindest about for the next four years. Yet, another is to choose the candidate who makes you feel the most hopeful and excited, or who is the best orator — more personality ethic choices. Of course, I am going to tell you that all of these are bad practices and that you should be taking your responsibility more seriously and investing a little more of your time and brains into making a careful selection.
I will admit that there have been times when all of the above things have factored into my voting decisions — especially when I have not taken the time to learn about candidates, like for seemingly obscure offices such as Railroad Commissioner or a State Board of Education seat. The longer I live, the more I figure out there is no such thing as an obscure elected office and that they all have an impact on each of our lives. So I am working on being a better voter and a better citizen. This last election I looked up multiple sources of at least summary information on each candidate. I looked up my precinct’s ballot to see exactly who was running for office and to see what the propositions were, then sought out information on each one. It really did not take very much of my time — an hour or two at most — to gain some sort of baseline understanding about each candidate and proposition.
Did you know one of the main reasons we have a mandatory public education system is so that we can be informed citizens? In this election season, I hope you will choose to resist the urge to oversimplify. Your vote does count, and it does matter — make it a solid one. SpringCreekArtsGuild@gmail.com