The Meaning in Life

Seeking a life that matters.

Not My President?

Understanding strong objections to the man in the Oval Office

imageWild-eyed Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann recently called on her constituents to get "armed and dangerous" to protect America.  Congresswoman Bachmann invoked the spirit of Thomas Jefferson to urge a revolution ... so we don't lose our country, you know.  Who is the threat?  President Barack Obama.  What nefarious plot has he hatched to destroy freedom?  Well, his plan to reduce global warming and climate collapse, of course.

Maybe some of you remember President Obama's innauguration.  Many things about that day stand out in my mind.  I was surprised, though, when a slip of the tongue was thought to have inadvertently thrown the legitimacy of our government into doubt.   Following the clumsy Oath of Office on Inauguration Day, Chris Wallace of Fox News declared, "Well, again, we're wondering whether or not Barack Obama in fact is the President of the United States."  Yikes!  I wonder if they've fixed that yet?

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Just a few days ago, a woman named Tammy Bruce, guest-hosting on the Laura Ingram radio show, declared, "We've got trash in the White House."  Given the provocative nature of talk radio, it shouldn't shock me.  

I find it a little more disturbing that members of our government are calling for revolution over cap-and-trade carbon markets.  Without getting into any possible merits of her objections, that seems a little extreme.  To make matters worse, as someone who was born and raised in Minnesota, I fear for the political reputation of the Land of 10,000 Lakes (actually more than 13,000 as most Minnesotans will cheerfully observe). 

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Wrassling Governer Ventura, apparently-elected-former-comedian Senator Franken, now Congresswoman Bachmann issuing periodic calls for revolution and anti-American-activity inquests.  I think it is clear that the next Congressperson from the North Star State will be a giant squirrel who communicates using a complicated corn-dog semaphore code.

How can these folks express such hostile feelings toward their President?  Maybe that's my problem.  I don't understand that he's not their President.

Twice in the past eight years, many Americans have wondered whether the guy in the Oval Office is the president.  In 2000, it was the unusual circumstances under which George W. Bush was declared the victor.  (Interestingly, some people think we'll soon see the first high profile legal case using Bush v. Gore as its central argument.  The case?  Dueling Minnesota Senator wannabes, Norm Coleman and Al Franken.  Of course.  *sigh*)

What might the spirit of "He's not my President" say about a meaningful life?  We often link our own aspirations to the welfare and policies of the nations in which we live.  At it's worst, this can lead to disappointment and rash promises (did immigration to Canada from the US really spike in 2000, 2004, and 2008?).  At its best, tying our own concerns to those of a larger entity is one of the ways that people add meaning to their lives.  Transcending our individual needs and desires by investing in some larger aim, cause, or group of people can expand our sense of who we are.  Gordon Allport talked about the mature personality as one that constantly grows to embrace more and more people and concerns.  Linking ourselves to something greater can also provide us with a deeper sense of purpose. 

Some scholars have argued that connecting ourselves with something greater is a way to achieve symbolic immortality. When they make people think about their own death, people get sensitive and ornery.  However, they feel better if they get to defend their culturally-inspired world view.  So, if I asked you to describe what would happen to your body as you died, you'd feel a little more anxious, and more hostile to people who are different from you...unless I gave you a chance to symbolically wave a flag, chant the name of your country, and punish those who oppose her will.  Doing those things seems to help us feel like we're part of something that will still be here when we're worm food.

Being a part of something greater than ourselves looks like a tried and true way of deepening the meaning in your life.  Volunteering for a community organization, getting involved in politics, attending religious services, and participating in social groups all are associated with greater meaning in life.

Of course, as with anything else we build our lives on, when these extensions of ourselves seem like they're being challenged, changed, or attacked, it can have a deep and penetrating effect.  In a couple of previous columns, I discussed strategies for making meaning when your job - and identity as a worker - are undermined.  I'd suggest something similar to Congresswoman Bachmann and other folks struggling with changes to an important source of meaning.  Key components are accepting the situation, looking for hidden opportunities to work with other people to find common ground, working collaboratively to shape new directions, and putting things in perspective.  Aside from a giant asteroid hurtling toward Earth, very few things are really the end of the world (and even that asteroid will miss us).  Including having a disagreement with a President.

© 2009 Michael F. Steger. All Rights Reserved.

Michael Steger, Ph.D., is a faculty member in the Counseling Psychology and Applied Social Psychology programs at Colorado State University.

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