So I woke to the news this morning that a miracle did not occur in Mississippi last night. I am sending out (silent) condolences to those on the losing side, as I did for Florida, Georgia, and Texas.

As a Southerner, I feel the need to say to those who lost: I see you. I know you are there. I have been there too often in my own state, disappointed by the result of a vote, and, frankly, by some of the individuals that stand before the nation to represent us.

Our voices may not be breaking through, yet. But we are still here. The story of the South is still being told.

So today, tomorrow, and each day after that, let’s write a new one.

How to articulate democracy

I am trying to gather my courage to call my Senators tomorrow to urge them to demonstrate their commitment to voting rights, which, alas, they won’t (which is why it takes courage because it feels futile, but necessary). I thought it might help for me to write about why democracy matters, and, this will surprise you, it turns out to be a difficult topic to address without disintegrating into pablum. At least, it’s not a quick write. One would think that decrying tyranny and embracing democracy would be easy enough, but no, it will take more work on my part. Especially because I stumble into the challenge that it’s hard to focus on the desire for democracy in our political spheres without recognizing the lack of democracy in our social spheres. And if tackling the topic of why everyone deserves a fair say in our politics is tough, imagine how tough it is to address the layers of injustice in how we treat one another in our daily lives. Or even to let myself recognize them.

I will keep trying. For now, here is what I believe, or what I want to believe: everyone matters, and everyone deserves the right to vote.

Unpacking it, fully articulating it, that’s another thing altogether.

Be skeptical but not cynical.

I fear my country is being harmed by a penchant for dualism—yes, I know you hear that all the time, but I won’t rant about it today. Instead, this is an invitation to tackle the challenges we face as a skeptic but not a cynic.

Take voting, for example. Is it reasonable to be skeptical that some of the candidates who are stepping into the ring who seem so inspiring, and there are many this year, may not be as wonderful as we hope or need or want? Or that somehow they will let us down or themselves down? Or even that they might be perfect, and some of them come pretty close, yet they will be up against almost impossible odds in trying to help the people they represent? Sure, be skeptical. Hope for the best, make the best choice possible based on the information available, but leave room for skepticism that positive change is rarely quick or easy. And that humans are, well, human.

But don’t give into cynicism. Cynicism says not only might things go wrong, but they will go wrong. Cynicism argues that we should never bother, we should never try, that nothing we think matters actually matters. That everything we build will be washed away in the tide.

Cynicism leaves us vulnerable in dangerous ways. Cynicism is a fancy way to say, “I give up, and you should, too.” Here’s the sneaky part: Cynicism sounds smart. Cynics get to claim they were right when things go wrong, while ignoring the responsibility we all have to one another to at least try. The truth is, to be cynical is to be lazy. It is much easier to give up than to do something, so I guess it’s lucky for the cynics that they sound smart, because… how do I say this? it’s not smart. Cynicism means giving up any bit of power or choice or opportunity you may have (and I always concede that these things are not fairly distributed), but if I’m dealt some bad cards, I’d rather play them than throw down the hand and storm out of the room. Play the game. Build something that matters to you. Yes, we can be skeptical about how long it will last. In the case of writers, we probably should keep our day jobs. But build it anyway. And if it falls down, start again. Live this life now.

Be skeptical, but not cynical.

And if you haven’t voted yet, what the heck? Go vote.

Voting matters.

It’s a lovely fall day with more colors on the trees than the forecasters had promised. And I have been trying to articulate something to myself, something about embracing hope rather than fear, a belief in abundance in opportunity, abundance in possibilities. I want to envision a cultural space in which there is room for all of us. A space where we understand that we need everyone and that everyone matters.

Next week is the U.S. midterm election. In online spaces, I frequently encourage people to vote because I consider it one of the most important responsibilities we have. I am sappy about the idea of democracy. And, for that matter, justice, peace, and ethical behavior. So I hope anyone reading this blog who can vote next week has done so or will do so on Tuesday.

The results of this election may give me reason to hope or reason to fear. I cannot change that. But I know this: I will still be here, and so will you. I will still exist. I will still stand for what I believe in. When necessary, I will call out cruelty, hatred, and indifference to suffering. Whenever possible, I want to embrace kindness and compassion, even the radical notion of treating everyone with respect.

I hope you will, too.