Monday, January 19, 2009

Unfettered Joy

(Cross-posted from

"I learned to slip back and forth between my black and white worlds, understanding that each possessed its own language and customs and structures of meaning, convinced that with a bit of translation on my part the two worlds would eventually cohere." (Barack Obama; Dreams From My Father; 1995)
I find this particular aspect of Barack Obama's character especially compelling. Like many of my friends and professional colleagues...although not all, I see truth as socially constructed--perspectival and pragmatic--and find myself considerably impatient with people who believe that their own view of the truth is intrinsically superior to another equally-functional truth. The awareness of the reality that truth reflects experience as much as it reflects exterior "reality"--a major deconstruction of positivism that is also known as the hermeneutic circle--is, to my mind, the primary achievement of education. Educated people--like Barack Obama--understand that truth-seeking requires an openness to the way that reality is seen by others--and a reluctance to dismiss the statements of others as wrong or false based solely on the fact that those statements are different from one's own. Such an awareness takes time to develop--it is metaphysically counterintuitive and undercuts the traditions and habits of individuals and particular social groups. It requires a rejection of the tribal instinct that leads humans to distrust strangers, an further evolution of consciousness that has taken the species many millenia to achieve and which is clearly still beyond the grasp of many in our country and abroad. It seems especially difficult for people who achieve or inherit financial wealth to accept, for it requires an acceptance that such success may reflect the luck of the situational draw as much as it reflects one's ability or merit.

If it were easy for humans to adopt the perspective of others--if empathy with all humans regardless of situation were instinctual rather than aquired--if following the golden rule were easy rather than an enormous challenge--we wouldn't be constantly at war with one another, whether in the streets of Chicago or in the middle east.
(Chicago Tribune, 1-19-09) WASHINGTON — A celebration of democracy quickly became an Obama family sing-along as the future first family danced, sang and channeled their inner Otis Day on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday.

The two-hour "We Are One" concert offered the family several moments of unfettered joy, whether it was Michelle Obama's delight at hearing Stevie Wonder sing or President-elect Barack Obama's attempt to teach his young daughters the "American Pie" chorus. The typically reserved Malia Obama even laughingly complied as her father tried to do the bump with her at one point....

As the entire National Mall danced to Garth Brooks' rendition of "Shout!" Barack and Michelle Obama showed their daughters how to do the dance made famous in "Animal House." Even the president-elect's mother-in-law, the stoic Marian Robinson, threw her hands in the air and laughed.

When Wonder appeared on stage a few moments later and played the opening chords of "Higher Ground," Michelle Obama jumped to her feet and motioned for her family to do the same. Soon the entire Obama clan was jamming to the 1970s funk song.

It brings me great happiness to see Barack and his family enjoying themselves as he takes on one of the most difficult jobs in the world. While I do not envy them the responsibilities or loss of privacy that comes as they ascend precipitously to the heights of celebrity, I do empathize with the tremendous enthusiasm of so many here in Chicago and around the world at the possibilities this represents. The celebrations in Washington--while certainly scripted to some extent and caught in the nets of spinmeisters and image consultants--are, for many, truly celebratory: an occasion on which to focus on possibilities rather than pessimistic realities.
(Chicago Tribune 1-19-09)"...Bono, the Irishman and lead singer of U2, injected the only seemingly unrehearsed political note to the day. Just after Obama's wife, Michelle, blew him a kiss, he said the election of Obama represented "not just an American dream — also an Irish dream, a European dream, African dream, Israeli dream and also a Palestinian dream."
Many Americans--especially those who preferred John McCain's (or even George W. Bush's) fixation on national defense--can't understand the exuberance of Europeans for Obama--and dismiss African-Americans' pride as merely another instance of jingoism or even racism. But these cynical Americans are missing something vital and sacred: the real power of shared hope and the belief in the possibility of transformed human affairs in a global community. They are missing the importance of these events--the many references to Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr., for example--as potent symbols of this possibility. Their "realism" has become a barrier to the idealism that could flow from their deepest desires, if they could only give themselves permission to dream.

Seeing the Obama family relishing these moments provides--for me--an opportunity to project my own dreams onto them. Certainly these dreams will not be easily realized, and these people upon whom I project those dreams are just people--mere mortals thrust into the center of the world's attention by the exigencies of time and place as much as by their own strivings--but I don't really care right now. Most of all, I am allowing myself a few days of shared joy--with the Obamas and with the entire world--and allowing myself to believe in our shared dreams--in the hope that if enough of us do believe, reality itself may be transformed.
(Chicago Tribune, 1-19-09)"In the course of our history, only a handful of generations have been asked to confront challenges as serious as the ones we face right now," Obama said. "But despite all of this—despite the enormity of the task that lies ahead—I stand here today as hopeful as ever that the United States of America will endure, that the dream of our founders will live on in our time... For in these monuments are chiseled those unlikely stories that affirm our unyielding faith — a faith that anything is possible in America."

1 comment:

Amy Shuffelton said...

I really enjoyed this posting -- enjoyed the unfettered joy within it. The pictures add a lot, too.

I wonder how many other sites come up with the labels Bono and hermeneutic circle.