“No man is an island,” wrote John Donne, the 16th Century English poet and cleric. In politics, this metaphor seems especially relevant. It is convenient, especially with social media, to be insular and self-protecting of our cherished political beliefs. We often hang out with people who feel and believe as we do. What is not easy—what takes courage—is to open our minds and listen to other points of view on climate change, immigration, women’s reproductive rights, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict…you name it. Anyone unswervingly committed to one position needs to engage in civil discourse with someone equally committed to another position. This is choosing debate over polarization. It’s building a bridge, not a wall. It’s allowing our political institutions to breathe again, and be effective before they break down and break our country apart. In my new novel, The Beginner’s Guide to Winning an Election, I was pleased to be interviewed on a podcast by a smart, savvy sixteen year old student activist. I gave him my thoughts about my 18-year-old heroine, Brit, who learns the necessity of speaking up about politics —dispassionately, diplomatically, and using research and history as her guide. History teaches us that being “islands”—going it alone without interacting, helping, or learning from others—is to capitulate to cynicism, apathy and stagnation. The lesson every generation should learn, starting in middle school and high school, is not to shy from politics but to embrace them.
Michael R. French
Michael French is a graduate of Stanford University and Northwestern University. He is a businessman and author who divides his time between Santa Barbara, California, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.