November is a great time for fans of sports and politics. In sports, not only do you get the World Series and the start of the NBA season, you get high school, college and pro football in full swing. In politics, you get full campaign season in odd-numbered years and actual voting in even-numbered years.
These days, though, it seems like more people are treating politics like sports. Very few grown-ups actually play sports, they are simply spectators, commenting, criticizing and cheering. Fantasy football has only enhanced the spectator factor and given us the illusion of involvement.
So too has our political engagement gone. Many of us vote but few of us do the hard work of civic engagement. We spend hours watching cable TV news about politics that are hard to have an impact on, such as what goes on in D.C. or abroad, and very few hours staying connected to what we can control near us.
This unhealthy dynamic is crystal clear in the issues of confronting ISIS and addressing the refugees coming from Syria. The two sides are talking past one another, with brash Facebook posts, as if that is civic engagement. One side of the debate calls the other soft on war and “bleeding hearts,” while the other calls their debate opponents war-and-fear mongers. With issues like Syria, these are complex issues that require the most careful thought and knowledge.
Personally, I like my leaders to err on the side of prudence and carve a path that combines the best of our impulse to love our neighbors but also maintain order and protect the weak. I like my leaders to be informed by history and careful study. And time will tell if evil agents of ISIS can be stopped and the Syrian refugee crisis abated.
All the while, what will not help is an atmosphere of “fantasy-football” politics in which people with little to no decision-making power shout at one another and their televisions. The next time you are tempted to get sucked into an online raging debate on hot-button and important issues like this, step back and do these three things:
- Pause—In our desire to react, we say things we don’t mean. Or we say them in ways we don’t mean to. Instead of instantly hitting reply, take time to think through what you will ay.
- Pray—Christians should be a people marked by prayer. To pray to God for help, when ISIS killers are unleashing their destruction, is to do something more effective than just to shake your fist at the talking heads on TV.
- Say Less–Lincoln was attributed to say, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” When it comes to online debate, this is doubly true.
By doing these three actions, we will stand a better chance to become a wise people and exercise the freedom we have been given by God and our forefathers.