Opinion: Why joy in politics is in short supply

Joy to the world. Please.

I realize the entire world is not the political one, but in those precincts there is precious little mirth these days. The happy warrior is an endangered species.

This joylessness is more a feature of those obsessed with politics than of actual practitioners. Social media and comment threads, marches and public hearings — these are meeting places for those who thrive on anger and outrage, fear and intimidation, paranoia and self-righteousness. Among most of those actually elected to office, you can still find comity, civility, even friendship. That, of course, is but another grievance for the perpetually outraged.

Not that politicians are afraid to embitter countrymen against one another, such as when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi recently referred to the GOP legislation to cut federal tax revenues by less than 3 percent as “the end of the world” and “Armageddon.” We know why she and others, including plenty of her Republican counterparts, say things like that: It’s what the outrage machine demands.

Why not try joy?

Why not, indeed. One reason we aren’t trying it, or at least aren’t getting it, may be found in a treatise by the great Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis.

“Surprised by Joy” is Lewis’ account of his journey from atheism to becoming “the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.” The Joy of which he speaks is “distinguish(able) both from Happiness and Pleasure” and “valuable only as a pointer to something other and outer.” For Lewis, that something was the God whose son’s birth we celebrate this week.

But what is instructive here is who helped Lewis reach that conclusion. He describes two friends. One is like-minded, and easy to befriend. (Think of the liberal nodding along to MSNBC, or the conservative to “Fox and Friends.”)

“But the Second Friend,” Lewis writes, “is the man who disagrees with you about everything. He is not so much the alter ego as the anti-self. Of course he shares your interests; otherwise he would not become your friend at all. But he has approached them all at a different angle. He has read all the right books but has got the wrong thing out of every one. … When you set out to correct his heresies, you find that he forsooth has decided to correct yours! And then you go at it, hammer and tongs, far into the night, night after night … each learning the weight of the other’s punches, and often more like mutually respectful enemies than friends.”

Thus do friends “modify one another’s thought,” Lewis writes, as “a community of mind and a deep affection emerge.”

I submit that kind of sincere give-and-take — rather than pound, pound, pounding the other side — is what we’re missing.

It’s missing, I suspect, in large part because the more we promote fear about the other side, the more we fear ourselves moving toward them at all.

But here’s the kicker: The Second Friend aided Lewis’ conversion, even though he was not a Christian. Rather, he subscribed to a spiritual philosophy called Anthroposophy. He “never made me an Anthroposophist,” Lewis writes, “but his counter-attacks destroyed forever two elements in my own thought.” It was from that intellectual tussling that Lewis moved not to where his friend stood, but to a different, and better, place.

If you see our two major political parties as ossified relics of a past era, unable to catch up with the times, consider the lack of real discussion between them vs. the vulgar theatrics that pass for political debate. And decide if better engagement might lead each not toward the other but, like Lewis, toward a better version of itself. Maybe even a more joyful one.

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