By John R. Kasich
“Stop the world, I want to get off!”
That popular cry from the 1960s may have fresh appeal in 2019, when so many of us despair at the deep political and cultural divisions that are tearing apart our nation. And it’s not just our dysfunctional government in Washington that’s fractured. The fault lines run just as deep through every state, city, and neighborhood — even families. Today’s climate of impeachment, political stalemate, and Twitter madness only makes things worse.
Of course, we can’t stop the world. We have to engage with it. And we can’t wait for politicians in Washington or some other outside power to magically solve things for us. It’s up to us, as individuals, to summon up the courage to bring about change — with an act of personal power that in some small way can make a big difference in our life and the lives of others.
It’s best summed up in the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”
He was a man who, of course, knew how to do great things. But he also understood the power of small actions, words, and deeds to accomplish great things and to inspire others to do their own “small things” to great effect. You don’t have to climb Mt. Everest. You don’t have to cure a dread disease. A small thing you do matters, and it can make a difference.
But leveraging small deeds to make meaningful change means finding ways that you, as one individual, can get your power back in order to make a difference for yourself and others. That’s a tough assignment, particularly when the nation is on the verge of what will surely be a divisive impeachment inquiry and a contentious election campaign. But this is exactly the time for each of us to redouble our efforts and model the kind of behavior we hope to see from our leaders in Washington.
Since leaving the Ohio governor’s office in January, I’ve traveled the country to talk with students, local leaders, and community groups about the ways we might fix what’s wrong with America. Some of the issues I talk about are pulled from the day’s headlines, while others are meant to get people to think beyond the current news cycle. Mostly, I try to remind folks of the homespun values we all share — values that might appear to some to have gone missing.
People are fed up with all the noise and nonsense that seems to pass for our national discourse these days. For the past two and a half years, there’s been a chaotic drumbeat coming out of our nation’s capital that has threatened to drown out who we are as caring, thinking, feeling people. Most of the folks I hear from are tired of it, and as we get to talking we are reminded of the ways we might lift each other up instead of dragging each other down.
As we adjust to the new realities that come with an impeachment inquiry, I’m hoping that some good can come out of the deepening divide that now seems to darken our democracy. I trust that the great majority of Americans will be able to call on their better angels and join me in the belief that these dark days do not signal a threat to our way of life, but rather a challenge that we must do better — each of us, in our own way.
So let’s catch our breath and dial down the venom and vitriol that flows from elected officials on both sides of the aisle, that poisons social media, and disrespects any opinion that differs from our own. We ought to take the lead in our own communities and set an example for others to follow.
That’s the only way we will ever be able to put our fractured nation back together. With each passing day, it’s clear we cannot rely on Washington to fix our problems for us. We cannot expect our elected officials to place our shared interests above their self-interests. We can only do what we can — be the change where we live, and hope everyone else starts doing the same.
I know what can be done because I’ve seen what it takes to make America work and what can make America better. I know that if you spend some time at your local food pantry, nobody’s going to care a whit about your politics. If you show up on the State House lawn to support sensible restrictions to our gun control laws, nobody’s going to call you out for being a traitor or an enemy of the Second Amendment.
But it’s on you and me, our families and neighbors — all of us — to find our purpose and get these things done. No one’s going to sweep into town to save the day. We have to solve our own problems, and we can. And we will. And we must.
John Kasich, a former US representative and former governor of Ohio, is the author of, “It’s Up To Us: Ten Little Ways We Can Bring About Big Change,” from which this column is adapted.