SAN DIEGO, November 11, 2014 — In what should eventually become one of the more famous speeches of our time, Steve Jobs sent the graduating class at Stanford University in 2005 off with a charge to “stay hungry, stay foolish.”
As he was wrapping up his thoughts on that Spring day, he told the students to guard their limited time:
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other peoples’ thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
Jobs probably never imagined these thoughts being applied to politics, but there is an awful lot of wisdom in them for our political life together. I have italicized my favorite part, and I put it at the bottom of every email.
It animates my ideas of what “Politics for the Rest of Us” looks like.
It looks like neighbors talking to each other, not past each other. But it also means neighbors talking past the “experts.” The faculty lounge does not get to tell the rest of us what words mean.
Politics for the Rest of Us looks like neighbors recognizing that party dogmas are relics of a past culture where you decided what you believed about the issues of the day, and then attached yourself to a political party. I call this “believing before belonging.” Those days are gone, and have been for a while now.
As a father of two terrific young men navigating high school and starting to notice the adult world into which they are soon to be thrust, I see a definitive and immensely important shift. Young people want to belong first. They are looking for authentic, meaningful experience of community. Only after belonging will they arrive at what they believe. For one born in 1967, this is a bit jarring. But the more I think about it, the more refreshing it appears.
This belonging before believing brings with it the promise of renewing our political discourse.
In 1971 Saul Alinsky wrote “Rules for Radicals” and articulated a strategic view of political activism that starts with narrow ideologies and then interprets and organizes community in that light.
It has been over forty years since, and we now have a political landscape populated by narrow-minded groups on both sides, off in their ideological corners. We are living someone else’s life — those of our favorite political media personalities — as we try to out-ridicule each other. Conservatives, of whom I am one, have a few of their own “Rules for Radicals” authors.
They haven’t really offered us anything new. It is just a rehash of Alinsky’s tactics (which are admittedly quite funny at times) and how to turn them against Alinsky’s liberal disciples.
We deserve better.
Politics for the Rest of Us seeks to build on this belonging before believing. It is a refusal to live with the dogmas of Alinsky, in either their original form or as they are parroted by conservative media personalities.
It is a call to belong first, and then to decide what you believe.
It is a call to reject the partisan social media ridicule machines and have the courage to court criticism.
It is a call to follow what your own heart tells you about what your community and its politics should look like, not what you’re told by the orthodoxies of legacy political parties and their priesthoods.
And it’s a call to think for yourself about how to get there.
Everything else is secondary.