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When the republic pollutes the personal

I’ve been thinking: It’s been a great summer. Coffee on patios, conversation with friends, family, peers. But talks that usually would focus on the Minnesota art of “catching up” have routinely devolved into a review of what is happening in our country.

Kris Potter

As summer ebbs and fall routines start to get under way, I’ve been thinking: It’s been a great summer. Coffee on patios, dinners at tables, theater the way we serve up in Minneapolis, luncheons with ladies, lakeside meals. Balmy weather, maybe a bit warmer then normal but tolerable. Conversation with friends, family, peers.

But talks that usually would focus on the Minnesota art of “catching up” have routinely devolved into a review of what is happening in our country.

Social moments, tables laden with summer bounty, tomatoes, corn, pork chops fueling the low languid summer conversation and laughter. The murmur of summer moments with people you like and love. One usually leaves such a table reflective, gliding into the night or afternoon on the human news presented at the encounter. The news that lets us help each other, offer support, and problem solve.

How did this happen?

But these last few months so many of these usually productive and positive delightful meals, coffees and post-theater reviews have ended with confusion, as the news that is in our public sphere is discussed. How did this happen? We thought we had come so far. Our country, so prosperous, so creative, so much potential … has spiraled into leaders who interact through a juvenile hurling of insults via chillingly unethical platforms. Seemingly without consequence, the ugliest of words and plans are placed into the public sphere, then trickling down in caustic streams to our luscious summer tables. Bowed not with food, but now with sickening speech.

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After some futile, flailing ideas …we all, have to vote, have to be active, have to be reading the most ethical news sources. Everyone turns from the table and with guts churning go our separate ways. It reminds me of abuse, when everyone knows something is wrong, and no one does anything to stop it.

Here’s what’s wrong. Leaders should be leading, in word, action and deed. Leaders should be working, there is so much to be done. Leaders serve at our behest. If they aren’t acting to benefit all of us, they aren’t leaders. Humans are so gullible. We go about our tasks, drive to work, mow the lawn, but the fear remains.

Meanwhile, the beauty of a meal with family, a coffee with friends, a concert under the moon, are overshadowed by a backsliding in our democracy. We are numb with a nameless anxiety. But let’s name it. We face almost insurmountable issues in our country. The environment, equity, housing, cancer, wars, children ripped from parents, homeless citizens, economic inequity, absent health care, children with financially unaffordable child care needs. This list is just a start. Instead of dealing with those, we gaze at phones with vacant eyes and thoughtless minds.

Anxiety grows

We’re anxious because what needs to be done isn’t getting done. A wise counselor told me once that the best cure for anxiety is to take action. As we watch nothing happening, our anxiety and paralysis grow. I see clearly now how the great and awful events of the 20th century happened. A confused, anxious, fearful society just doesn’t work well. Pair it with leaders lacking integrity and heart and our natural human desire for good shorts out like a cellphone dropped in seawater.

As we move into these early stages of fall, we keep gathering over Minnesota harvests. Conversation flows, we debate the issues of the day. We speculate what’s to come, we hope for the future. We work in our little spheres to push away the fear and let in the light. Maybe now, it’s the personal that will carry the republic. The gentle conversations over simple foods that apply a salve to a wounded country.

Kris Potter lives in South Minneapolis, where she teaches at a play-based preschool. 


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