Stay Calm This Political Season – The Human Condition Remains Consistent

by Dr. Rick Kirschner on September 3, 2012

I was speaking with my friend Roman earlier this morning about an observation I made in the early 1970s that still seems to hold up.  It is this:  The political polarization, human ignorance and difficult behavior are not new.  Indeed, in some ways these things have been with us since the beginning of time, and likely will remain with us forever.

Roman said I should blog about this, so taking my inspiration from the support of a friend, here goes.

The year was 1973.  I heard the news that the Yom Kippur war had begun, started by a sneak attack at dawn on the holiest day of the Hebrew calendar.  And I felt, what’s the word,called to serve, that  I had to be there.   But by the time I could get there, the war was already over.  The whole country was in a state of depression, most Israelis having lost someone personally in the sneak attack that started the war on the holiest day in Israel’s calendar.  It was a particularly rainy season, so the fields were full of mud and it was impossible to move equipment in them.  The whole country seemed quiet, under a blanket of wet and sadness I guess, or so it seemed to me.
I looked for a place to live, and found a one room cabin in a vegetarian village in the mountains outside of the town of Safed/Tsfat.    But there was no work to be found, and nothing to do.  I just sat around the little cabin, day after day, journaling, staring at the clouds above and below us (we were high up in the mountains, and often had clouds below us) and to pass the time, I idly picked up and then began reading some old Time Magazines my landlady kept in a box.   These were from the late 1920s and 1930s, including the great depression, and the runup to the 2nd World War.  What compelling reading!  I’ve always been a bit of a history buff, and at that young age, these magazines became a living window into the past.  And the surprising result:  they reframed my understanding of the present.

As I read issue after issue, it was so easy to see, every trend happening in the world today has happened in the past.  Wars.  Rumors of wars.  Earthquakes and tsunamis.  Bombs and terror.  Chemical and oil spills.  Dangerous bomb materials.  People fighting for their rights.  People fighting people who were fighting for their rights.   People killing people because of intolerance.  People picking sides, carrying signs, demonizing their opponents.  Same as today.

This wasn’t the first time I made this observation, either.  As a student of history, I loved reading about the founding fathers and the revolutionary era that gave birth to my country , the U.S. of A.  And from what I can ascertain, in the days of Washington, Jefferson and Adams, the press was completely irresponsible in its political coverage, and politicians and gossips constantly sought advantage by disadvantaging each other, calling each other names and telling terrible lies about each other, and confusing the electorate with patently false information presented persuasively.   And like today, the country was torn between people who wanted to keep the status quo and people who wanted things to change, people who wanted to roll the clock back, and people who saw it inevitably ticking forward.   All the same trends.  Same challenges.  Yes, I’m saying, we’re the same people. (But we have better gadgets!)

My observation is that this sorry state is the human condition in every generation.  Same as it ever was, same as it is, same as it is likely to be unless some major shift happens and humanity chooses a sustainable future.  I’m not holding my breath, just doing what I can do, same as you.  So the next time somebody starts venting their spleen about the state of the world or the political contest or the court decision, maybe you can do what I do. Which is, as my friend Jeff  says,  do what you can do, and don’t get too excited about the rest of it.  That allows me to stay sane and stable and have better dialogs with people than if I got on a tear or a rant.

Your comments, stories and feedback are welcome!

Be well,




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