Be Happy Warriors!

Walter Mondale and Hubert Humphrey, Minnesota Senators

Hubert Humphrey was known in the Senate and as both Vice President and a Presidential contender as the “happy warrior,” someone who fought with unbounded energy and drive for equality and social justice, but without the bitterness that infects some activists.

As we near an election with the country divided, Humphrey should stand out as a model.  Whether your side wins or loses, there is no cause for bitterness.  Keep fighting for what you believe in, but not out of anger or resentment.

I like to live by what I call the “reality principle.”  Reality is what it is.   Getting mad or upset about things that can’t be changed is foolish and self-defeating.    If on November 6th President Obama is defeated my preferred candidate will have lost.   If I let that affect my mood and happiness, however, I’ll be acting irrationally.  I can’t give the American electorate power over my personal sense of happiness.

At base, the reality principle is simple (my version of it, not Freud’s!)   Adapt to reality.    Accept the world as it is, and don’t let the world’s injustices and problems cause personal pain and dismay.   Instead, observe with equanimity what the world offers, work hard to change what you think is wrong, and don’t get angry or upset by the things beyond your capacity to change.   Those must be accepted.

Intense negativity in campaign ads help convince people that their side is goodness and light and the other side is evil and darkness

For many activists and believers of social justice, this is very, very hard to do.   One sees a world with a $30 billion sex trade industry with young girls having their lives ripped apart by evil pimps who want to use them simply to make money.   We see children being turned to warriors fighting conflicts in Africa, often having their arms scrapped open so cocaine can be rubbed directly into their bloodstream.    On the African continent nearly half the children are chronically malnourished, with little likelihood of a prosperous future.

Meanwhile we live in material opulence, taking for granted a level of comfort and ease that surpasses what most people have enjoyed throughout human history.   Even the poor live with a level of convenience and plenty that most of the world and most people throughout time lack.   Wicked men and women play with lives in order to try to control oil, resources and vast corporate empires, feeding their own psychological pathologies at the expense of others.   Many people simply partake in mindless distractions, oblivious to the good they could or should be doing.

Given all of that, the relative importance of whether Mitt Romney or Barack Obama is elected President next week seems diminished.   Moreover, the next election cycle comes in 2014 and then for President in 2016.    The game continues to be played.

Yet many on the left and right view the election through emotional partisan lenses, absolutely convinced that the election of the ‘other guy’ would be devastating for the country.    Mitt Romney made the absurd statement that if Barack Obama is elected he would guarantee that America’s best days are behind us.    The Obama campaign states Romney’s plans will drive the US back into the economic abyss.    The reality is that each will have to compromise with the other side to get anything done.   Obama has proven himself a centrist establishment Democrat while Romney is by all accounts a centrist establishment Republican.   The world will not drift towards destruction if either one of them is elected.

Linus’ philosophy is one way to escape letting reality have power over your happiness, but Humphrey’s approach probably brings more satisfaction!

Don’t get me wrong!  I’m not downplaying the importance of the election.   If Al Gore had gotten 600  more votes in Florida in 2000 we may not have gone to war in Iraq and might not have had exploding deficits in the 00’s.    We don’t know.   Perhaps the real estate bubble wouldn’t have happened and we’d be much better off economically – elections can make a big difference.   We’ll never know for sure what would be different – one could argue we’d be worse off without the Iraq war – but elections matter.

Yet once the election is over, that’s reality.    It should not cause anger, despair or resentment.  Reality is as it is, it has to be accepted.   Instead, following Humphrey, people who take the issues seriously should throw themselves in to doing whatever they can to promote their cause.   Not out cynical bitterness but as “happy warriors,” delighted that they have the opportunity to participate in trying to make the world a better place, recognizing that small actions can have huge long term ripple effects.

Success is not defined by achieving the ideal world, but by moving a little closer to it in the course of ones’ life.   The results of our acts are not visible to us.   We have to have faith that if we act on good will and give our effort into creating a better world we do make a difference.   We don’t need to see results or know the future to validate that faith.   We need to recognize that it’s how the world works.

The women’s suffrage movement fought long and hard, with many political defeats and setbacks. Now, of course, their victory appears to have been inevitable.

So my hope is that people work hard to support the causes and people they think will make choices to improve the country and build a better future.   Those efforts are more important than who wins or loses on election day, and our work to build a better future cannot be tied to election cycles.     But we should never give others in the world power over our own happiness.

To much to ask?   Well, when reality really hits hard we often need time to grieve.  Go through the stages of grief, but don’t wallow there.   It’s not a fun place to be.

Hubert Humphrey lost a very close election in 1968, and his record as Vice President was marred by the Vietnam war.   Yet he never gave into bitterness or anger, got along with folk on both sides of the aisle, and remains a political icon.  Even those who disagree with his principles respect his energy, integrity and ability to be a ‘happy warrior.’    Ultimately that brings more satisfaction than giving in to the bile and anger that too often infects American politics.

  1. #1 by Mike Hein on October 28, 2012 - 19:55

    Written like a true baby-boomer: happiness at all costs; happiness as the highest good; do whatever you want, as long as it feels good.

    Good grief. How about responsibility and commitment as higher ideals/virtues than happiness?

    Of course, as a secular humanist (the religion of the God-hating left), when you die, there is supposedly nothing left, no afterlife. So you might as well be hedonistic pigs in the here-and-now, right?

    Happiness is for kids and the terminally irresponsible. Grow up already and get over yourself.

    • #2 by Scott Erb on October 28, 2012 - 21:29

      I’m simply saying not to give events outside your control power over your emotions. It is pointless. If you can change things, act, if not, accept that reality is as it is. Now, I’m not saying every one can – it takes practice – and my inspiration for this “baby boomer” approach came from Rene Descartes meditations. It’s a bit I typed out and keep on my wall at work, I can get you a copy if you wish.

      Happiness is contentment and, following Spinoza something I think comes from understanding emotion and not letting reactions get the better of you. It is a joy in living every day and cherishing life as precious and wondrous.

      As for “secular humanism,” funny you should mention that. In my honors class tomorrow we’re discussing the “fight” Deists Rousseau and Voltaire had about the Lisbon earthquake which led Voltaire to write “Candide” and essentially create secular humanism. Voltaire believed in a God, but only as a first mover and designer of the universe. Humans need our love, Voltaire wrote, not God.

      I critique the enlightenment as putting too much faith in reason. Indeed, it takes as much faith in something one can’t know to be an atheist or to think materialist reason describes the world as it does to be a religious believer. I consider myself primarily a spiritualist, though I’ve found all human made religions to be unsatisfying. As the diversity within even Christianity attests to, humans tend to create God in their own image, putting their biases, values and core ideals into how they interpret their religion. Deep truths are not found by embracing one particular myth or another that spring from different parts of the world, but recognizing their common values and reflecting on the the mystery and scaredness of all existence.

    • #3 by Scott Erb on November 2, 2012 - 14:35

      From the Dalai Lama: “There are two kinds of happiness – the temporary pleasure derived primarily from material comfort alone and another more enduring comfort that results from the thorough transformation and development of the mind. We can see in our own lives that the latter form of happiness is superior because when our mental state is calm and happy, we can easily put up with minor pains and physical discomforts. On the other hand, when our mind is restless and upset, the most comfortable physical facilities do not make us happy.”

  2. #4 by brucetheeconomist on October 28, 2012 - 22:32

    Nice post. I’m not sure why it got such a vitriolic response above.

  3. #5 by lbwoodgate on October 29, 2012 - 07:45

    “If on November 6th President Obama is defeated my preferred candidate will have lost. If I let that affect my mood and happiness, however, I’ll be acting irrationally. I can’t give the American electorate power over my personal sense of happiness.

    Excellent point Scott. The issues will still remain and to the dismay of many who think Romney has a silver bullet to turn things around, like some who voted for Obama, they will see that voting against someone is not going to fix what needs fixing. It is our continued efforts as citizens to right what we feel is wrong that will have any last impact.

    The control for power by individuals and groups has been in effect throughout the history of our species. The movie, “Cloud Atlas” I thought brought this point out very well.

    And Mr. Hein, get a life – away from a fixation with “liberal evil” hopefully.

    • #6 by Scott Erb on October 29, 2012 - 07:59

      That movie hasn’t made it to Farmington yet, but I saw Tom Hanks promote it on the Colbert Report so I’ll see it when it gets here. Thanks!

  4. #7 by lbwoodgate on October 29, 2012 - 07:47

    “Hubert Humphrey lost a very close election in 1968, and his record as Vice President was marred by the Vietnam war. “

    I had returned from VietNam the month after that election and sadly, had I voted, I would have voted for Nixon out of bitterness for that war. How naive I was back then at 20.

    • #8 by Scott Erb on October 29, 2012 - 08:00

      When I was 12 my first political action – in McGovern’s home state of South Dakota — was to canvas for Nixon door to door. Now I admire McGovern and his legacy. Ah, the mistakes of youth!

  5. #9 by Snoring Dog Studio on October 29, 2012 - 08:43

    Excellent post. I’m not sure Mr. Hein got your point at all, but your response was magnanimous. I’m one of those individuals who’ll find it very difficult to stomach a Romney administration, for all it represents. It WILL feel like the moneyed, corporate interests bought the election. Can I make it through four years of that? Don’t know. Whatever happens, I’ve got to stay involved and not bury my head in the sand. That’s the wrong response.

  6. #10 by dirtnrocksnomo on October 29, 2012 - 15:45

    Scott, I commend you for your level headed response in this thread and in past thread comments as well. You consistently respond to comments without resorting to mean spirited name calling and I find that admirable.

  7. #11 by La on October 29, 2012 - 20:11

    “The reality is that each will have to compromise with the other side to get anything done. ” This is most certainly true. What I really want is a candidate that says ‘unfortunately, to tackle the deficit, we need to both raise revenue and cut spending’…of course this is VERY unlikable since reality is rarely glamourous and not anything more than digging in and doing some very hard work (not great vote getters). Both sides MUST give in or else the result is grid lock (to do nothing) and nothing could be more devestating to democracy. So my votes will go to those that have proven themselves to work toward solutions even if the solutions do not contain EVERYTHNG I want and believe in. I want those working hard behind closed doors, not tea party hardliners. Scare tactics have proven to work in the past which is why both parties are using them. But if you examine closely, in the true values of our country, the two sides are not as far apart as the scare tactics imply. Also, a return to mutual respect of our leaders to each other would carry our nation far.

    • #12 by Scott Erb on October 29, 2012 - 21:22

      La is absolutely right. I was disappointed when Boehner and Obama couldn’t reach their “grand compromise” because of members of each party who resisted compromise. I suspect Boehner and Obama deep down wanted a deal. I think they’ll ultimately reach one because it’s so obvious – politically neither party can force their way, they have to compromise to restructure the economy and get us back on solid fiscal ground. Politics is the art of the possible.

  8. #13 by thenewamericanlondoner on October 29, 2012 - 21:02

    I hate to say it given the vitriol and ignorance in the method in which he expressed himself, but I sympathize just a little bit with the first commenter, though not for the reasons that he would think. Hear me out because I mean this as a genuine point of discussion and constructive… well, thought perhaps. Not criticism.

    Your post, well written as always, puts me in mind of two things: the parson Abraham Adams from Henry Fielding’s novel Joseph Andrews, and the 2004 film “What the Bleep Do We Know?” The parson because he advocates remaining stoic and accepting of fate without giving in to dolor and despair, resisting the urge to feel strong emotion of any kind and urging forgiveness above all else, not dissimilar to Pangloss’ worldview, but this is something for which the protagonist is not always capable and this inability to let go is more admirable and more human and just the most wonderful touch by Fielding. Thus Joseph is unable to forgive the thieves who attack him and detachment almost seems unfair to expect of him and would diminish him. Now, as you say this sort of letting go is not possible for everyone, but I wonder if it’s healthier to at least temporarily give vent to our rage and anguish than to let it roll over us in zen-fashion.

    Which brings me to that 2004 film, for which Garrett Keizer stated the point here much more clearly than I could.

    That point is roughly that on the left, we tend to retreat into calm platitudes when we get an overwhelming sense of disillusionment and we try to shift the terms of engagement to say, “You know what? We don’t believe in right or wrong anyway,” which just smells a bit like a strange sort of retreat into oneself. I just get the impression that’s what’s going on here, that this is what James Carville was always warning about, conceding too much.

    On rational, objective substance, your argument wins hands down, but in the case of a social climate like the one that exists in America right now, where politics is personal and to say otherwise strikes me as slightly naive, I’d rather rage against the dying of the light than go placidly amid the noise.

    • #14 by Scott Erb on October 29, 2012 - 21:33

      I thought about the kind of thing you mention with the Joseph character. I see that as a kind of process of grief. But ultimately if one holds on to the anger and resentment it seems one is giving that person who did harm too much power over one’s emotional state. So something like the stages of grief is probably healthier than Spinoza (or Spock) like emotional detachment.

      Humphrey probably is more like Voltaire than Pangloss — focused on the need to try to decrease human suffering and create a better world. I enjoyed the article from Mother Jones, and I also saw the movie. I wasn’t as impressed with the movie because I’ve been fascinated with modern physics (I ordered a “Great Lectures” series course on particle physics of all things). I agree that modern physics opens the door up to allow the possibility of spiritual and religious ideas – the Dalai Lama wrote about that. But the movie sort of made it a caricature, more new age sentiment than real reflective physics.

      And that goes back to Voltaire. I think the enlightenment did focus too much on reason and not enough on sentiment. You need passion. I guess what I admire in Humphrey is that his passion never kept him from working with the other side, or got him too far down when he lost. He kept up the good fight. Of course, here in Maine where I live things haven’t deteriorated. Republicans and Democrats still work together, even in the state house. Heck, I watched two of the debates with my Republican state rep (who is also a neighbor) and we agreed on more than we disagreed about. Yet then I see the wild accusations that seem to drive the media and it is a bit scary.

  9. #15 by helenofmarlowe on October 30, 2012 - 15:09

    If Al Gore had gotten 600 more votes in Florida in 2000 we may not have gone to war in Iraq and might not have had exploding deficits in the 00′s.
    I’ve been thinking that if 600 more of Al Gore’s votes had been counted . . .

    • #16 by Scott Erb on November 1, 2012 - 19:07

      …for Gore rather than Pat Buchanan!

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