Ed. note: Tonight, fellow blogger-in-crime Rachel Farris -- better know for her blog's nom de plume, Mean Rachel -- will be roasted at an Annie's List fundraiser. You've probably seen the ads for the event ads on the left side of our page for a while -- if you want to come get drinks and have some laughs at her expense to raise some money for Annie's List, come join us.
Conventional wisdom is a beast to be reckoned with. It is much easier to believe something dumb than to learn something smart. And once the dumb sets in, it can be hard to get it unstuck. Once stuck, conventional wisdom can stifle creative thinking and extinguish hope for new opportunities -- and make us all much more lazy in the process. When we become lazy, we can easily become down-trodden and all of a sudden, we don't want to fight.
Conventional wisdom -- whether in politics, or in life -- limits our ability to think big and to dream. In politics, we worry about conventional wisdom like "maybe Obama is a Muslim" or "of course a Democrat will never win statewide." But often times, conventional wisdom is something much worse. Maybe it's, "of course I'm never going to find a job," or "I'm never going to be able to do that because the world is stacked against me." There is a pattern of behavior that can take root, spread, and overcome the entire thought process so badly that it renders one inert and unable to move forward and strive for the dreams we had laid out in front of us.
Rachel -- even if she doesn't know it -- has shown me a lot about fighting back against conventional wisdom, and trying to do the right thing whether or not it makes you popular, earns you praise, or puts money in your pockets. That's real wisdom, and that's the kind of wisdom we need if we're going to win elections this fall.
So how do you fight conventional wisdom? I think it takes three things...
1. "If your heart is in the right place, write it."
There's no sense in being controversial for the sake of controversy. But if you feel that your heart is in the right place, don't ever let anyone tell you not to write something. You won't get in trouble for writing about something you believe in, even if it might make someone else mad. And if someone does get mad at you, chances are they weren't someone you'd want to know in the first place.
I don't think you can fight conventional wisdom if you don't really believe what you are saying, and I don't think you can believe what you are saying unless -- as Rachel says -- your heart is in the right place. Spinning for spinning's sake is a tired way of politics. Spinning is the failed way of politics -- like Rick Perry's campaign standing up and saying Bill White refuses to debate. If you're going to start fighting conventional wisdom, your heart has to be in the right place. If you don't believe it yourself, you're making it that much more unlikely that anyone else will believe you.
That's true across the board. If you are in a position where you want a better job -- or just a job -- you're never going to get it unless you believe you deserve it. You're never going to find that person in your life that matters to you unless you believe you deserve it, and believe that person is out there. You're never going to make the big changes you want -- no matter what opportunities you have, or what your status is in life -- until you believe it yourself.
2. You have to move out of despair, past hope, into working for change.
Not too long ago, I attended Netroots Nation -- thanks to Rachel. She sold me an affordable pass she'd bought months ago, but couldn't use. Thanks to her, I got to see one of the best speeches (if not the best) I've ever seen. It was by Van Jones, and while you should watch all of it, I've clipped out the key 2-minutes that you really need to see:
Here's what he says:
Here's the mindset I want you to have. Hope is tough, when you're in despair, but it's nothing compared to change.
In your personal life you know this. If you're fifteen pounds overweight, and you think you want to lose weight but you just say, "You know what, I'm out of shape, I haven't been in shape for a long time, I'm gonna eat another donut" -- that's called despair.
When you're munching the donut, and wiping the crumbs off and walking through the mall, and you see a fitness magazine and you see a beautiful fitness person with the washboard abs and the biceps and the triceps, and you think to yourself, "I could look like that" -- that's called hope.
When you actually go to the gym, and actually change your diet, and actually lose fifteen pounds, that's called change. That's change. That's harder. That's up and down. That's back and forth. That's good days and bad days, and it's not going to always be easy.
But if you don't go back to despair -- this is my point, Netroots Nation -- if you don't go all the way back to despair, if you keep the hope alive, then change is still possible. Change is still possible.
The despair of conventional wisdom can trap you into believing good things are bad, or leave you caught in a place where the perfect is not only the enemy, but the destroyer, of the good. We can work against ourselves sometimes, and our own beliefs, because we can get so caught up in the certainty of an idea we don't want to believe, we don't want to follow, we don't want to exist -- yet, we feel despair. We surrender. We stop fighting, and we fall into a lazy acceptance of the status quo.
We have to believe in ourselves, and then we have to act for change.
3. You have to be a spirit -- you can't be a ghost.
This is how you act for change:
The movie "Bulworth" is one of the best political movies I've ever seen. The key idea behind the movie, which is emphasized throughout and hammered home at the end, is that inspiration is essential to change. Once we've found what we believe, and once we've fully realized and accepted the change we want to deliver and started to work for it, we have to go one step further. We have to "be a spirit" and recruit others to our cause.
Rachel does not do politics professionally. Unlike myself, and many others who write on BOR -- as well as read the site -- she has no official connection to politics beyond her activism. She writes and engages and pushes because she cares about what she's doing, and wants to be someone who actively engages in the process. I've always found that to be very impressive, and I applaud her for it and for -- on a regular basis -- making me want to do better work.
In order to break the stranglehold of conventional wisdom, we have to be a spirit. It will start small -- recapturing your health one day at a time, finding a job one day at a time, or seeking reconcilliation one day at a time. But we should never fight those battles alone. We should never hide from the dreams we want to achieve -- we should find someone to share in them. And in many ways, that's something that the internet and blogs truly offers that is unique. We can find communities online -- social networks, discussion groups, etc. -- that allow us to come together with people who are also working on solving a problem, big or small, that has an affect on our lives.
We all have to fight conventional wisdom, as much as possible, on a regular basis. For those of us with the capacity to fight those battles for our friends, we should. We should all push back against the political obstacles that put a stranglehold on democracy -- whether it is the way we finance elections, conduct public discourse, participate in the free press, or support certain candidates. But we should also help each other fight back against the personal obstacles we face on a regular basis -- obstacles that thwart our best efforts and place boundaries on our opportunities.
Conventional wisdom is a beast. But it's a beast we can defeat. Thanks to Rachel for reminding me of that, even if she didn't know it.
And now that I've said all these nice things about her, I hope Harold, Rep. Strama, and Gen roast her to no end tonight! Thanks to our readers for allowing me this personal aside. Back to politics from now on, I promise.