OK, I did my part. It took maybe 20 minutes for me to do so, and about half of those minutes were spent visiting someone I knew. I exercised my right as an American citizen: I voted early, beat the traffic and the lines, and cast my ballot for the people I wanted to represent me.
Virtually effortless. Completely painless. Got my sticker, and then I went home.
I’m finished, right? My part’s over.
So much emphasis goes toward getting people out to vote — and rightly so — that it sometimes feels as if there’s nothing else required when it comes to affecting any real and necessary changes. Thinking a vote is the end-all to every problem seemingly relieves us of any actual responsibility. Whatever happens next falls on the heads of whichever man or woman won — or lost — an election. If our candidate loses and bad stuff keeps happening? Well, then, it shows everyone else should have listened to us and voted the way we did.
If our candidate wins and bad stuff keeps happening? Well, then, at least we did our part. It’s not our fault when things go sideways.
That’s not how it works, gang. Not at all.
Our obligation to act as decent citizens doesn’t end once we walk out of a polling location. There is — always has been and always will be — a lot of work left to do. We’ve got more than 330 million people spread across more than 3.5 million square miles, meaning not much is ever going to stay the same. We’re a team facing a different opponent in what feels like every moment.
Like any other team, it’s going to take more than showing up for the game for us to have any hope of success. From top to bottom, we all have roles to play. Any sports fan can relate to the comparison. Right now, there’s a future Hall of Fame head coach whose pro football team is looking pretty bad. He’s a great coach, but without the right players, the team is going nowhere.
Conversely, a team stacked with talent can still flounder in misery without the right leadership. Running the plays does no good if the person calling them has no clue as to what he or she is doing.
Sticking with the sports analogy, one can also look to those teams with the so-called “locker-room cancers.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much to disrupt an otherwise cohesive unit. Just one player going out of his way to wreak havoc can nullify the efforts of the collective.
As an old dude, I’ve borne witness to an awful lot of our nation’s worst moments. If a younger person ever asks me when things will work out perfectly, I’ll have to confess in a grave tone, “Never.” I’ve never seen perfection across the board, and I’ve resigned myself to leaving this planet without the experience. It’s just the way it is.
We don’t have to be perfect to win. We just have to keep striving to be the best we can be.
Our best efforts can’t stop with an “I Voted” sticker.
What exactly are our responsibilities? I guess it depends upon the level of one’s commitment to betterment. There are so many dedicated individuals who find ways to make their immediate surroundings better for others. First responders, health care workers, educators, military members and others like them epitomize unselfishness in their daily lives and professions. Others simply go through their days doing their best in their jobs, homes and communities. They’re also valuable. Anyone willing to do some lifting instead of dragging can help.
Then there are the ones who just refuse to do anything. They exist, but their only contribution seems to be ensuring the rest of us don’t breathe too much oxygen. They’re enjoying the benefits of being on the team, but they’re not about to break a sweat making us better.
Some of them probably didn’t even bother to vote.
They’re no help. They’re the reason for the “Lead, follow, or get the heck out of the way” adage multiplied by 330-something million.
Societal progress and success are always going to take more than one man or woman can offer, whether the need for such comes in a small community or on a national scale. Dumping all the responsibility on those for whom we’ve voted is both lazy and reeking of a lack of accountability. We’re in need of a lot of improvements, and they’ll depend on much more than a short stop at a polling location or a sign or flag in a front yard.
We’ll always need more than one man or woman can produce.
And we’ll always need to recognize the mere act of voting isn’t really the end of anything.