Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Think ahead, in life and in politics

One thing that has started to bother me a bit in this election season is that I think people have lost a lot of the sense of what it is the best people in the world try to do, which is think more about the future than right now.

It's a hard thing to do, there's actually a lot of research out there where scientists are trying to figure out why we are so focused on instant gratification instead of our futures. We do it all the time when we charge a meal out on a credit card that we can't pay off by the end of the month, or buy a pair of shoes we don't really need and then never wear just because they're SO cute.

But it's never more important to think about the future than when we're facing an election, or when we're advocating for legislation.

The common thing that makes people finally think about the future is when they have children. They want to leave the country a better place for their kids. But it seems like these days, people either care less about their kid's future than their own comfort or they're really not understanding at all what the next generation needs or is going to need.

As someone who doesn't have kids, and doesn't plan to, I find it even MORE important for me to try to leave behind a world that is better than I found it because my legacy won't be left with children. My legacy is doing my part, by voting, by supporting specific legislation, and by promoting causes I believe in.

It's vital that right now those of us who are old enough to vote and to create change in our government actually think about what we're doing. No knee-jerk reactions, no quick assessments. We need to really look into the issues and think not about how something will serve us this instant, or tomorrow, or a year from now. How will it change things in ten years, in twenty, in a generation?

As a country, I don't feel we've done that for a long time, and now we're in the middle of the fallout from a lot of things that were good ideas at the time, that helped in the short run, but that ended up doing more long term harm than even that short term good. We think selfishly, we assume that other people have had the same opportunities that we have or better. We want everything to be for ME and for RIGHT NOW. And that's a poor way to run a government, a country, or a life.

One way we can start thinking about our future is promoting better education for all of America's youth. More teachers, more money for schools, more schools even. We need to make sure that no child in any public school leaves elementary school without being able to read. We need to make sure they graduate high school able to communicate, to think, and to do the things they need to survive in life.

We need to end the restrictive testing guidelines that are strangling our teachers and keeping them from actually helping children. We need to let schools and teachers have the time, money, and support they need to take the curriculum we've been teaching for so long and revolutionize it to something that will actually work in the modern era. What worked even when I was in high school won't work now and we need to stop making it so hard for teachers to keep up, to reach their students, and to be current.

And we need to stop the ridiculousness that is the higher education system right now. College should not be prohibitively expensive, and every child who wants to learn more and have a greater education should have that opportunity. It's very true that college isn't always the best path for every person, and that we should think about the benefits of community colleges and public schools before trying to make sure everybody can go to Harvard or Yale. But at the same time, if a child wants to go to college and learn more that child will benefit their community in the long run. And so the community can and should invest in that child's future because it is also an investment in the community itself.

If giving a child $1,000 in a grant today for tuition will help them earn a business degree, then they'll take that degree and form a small business. They could hire local workers, they would be paying taxes back to the local community. The service they provide will increase the quality of life for their town. Everybody wins when even one member of the community is more educated.

Even if you take something so simple as literacy, it's clear from all the statistics I have ever seen that there is a link between criminal behavior and illiteracy. Simply by making sure that every child in your community can read, you will be reducing the crime rate and everybody wins.

So while you're going to the polls, think for a minute. Don't think about what you had to go through to get your degree, it doesn't matter. Don't think about your own student loan debt (though I know it's hard to forget, trust me mine is crushing). Don't think about the past, or how things were. Don't think just about yourself.

Think about how to make the entire country a better place. Think about which amendments will do that, which proposals will help our nation's children become smarter. Vote for the people who support our future. Because I don't know about you, but I'm willing to sacrifice a little right now if it means I have a lot more than I would have later on.

And sometimes I'm willing to sacrifice so that somebody else will have more. Because that's what a good person does.