Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Thoughts About the 2012 Election

I entered some observations onto my Facebook page regarding the election. I need to expand on some of that here.

First, I want to note that the best thing about being an American is the simple fact that in this country I get to express my opinion at the ballot box. With few exceptions there are no threats or efforts to intimidate. Once the vote is in there is peaceful transition. May it ever be so.

Second, the carping has begun complete with Monday quarterbacking trying to figure out why Romney lost the election. No matter the outcome, I still believe he was the better candidate. So why didn't he get elected? I became convinced after hearing the results that the main reason he lost is simply a failure to communicate his message so it could be understood clearly.

What most of us older folks don't get is the fact that the American culture has experienced a dramatic shift. In my lifetime the American culture changed several times. It is no longer the culture of the 1950s where Christianity and Americanism mixed in a kind of civil religion. It is no longer the culture of the 1960s and 70s when so many young people rebelled and focused on drugs, sex, and rock 'n' roll. It is no longer the 1980s, the era of Reagan. It isn't the 1990s which is the era of Clinton. We are now well into the 21st Century and cultural change has become exponentially fast. Whether in "doing church" or "doing politics" the old methods just don't resonate any longer. Oh, those of us Tweeners (those born in the late 1930s and early 1940s) and the Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1967) understand the "old ways" but even the Boomers sought change.

You can see cultural change in the way we communicate. I remember gathering around my grandfather's radio to listen to Amos and Andy. In my own home in Ottumwa I listened to radio programs -- The Lone Ranger, Straight Arrow, Sergeant Preston, Father Knows Best... Then came TV and radio was gone. I hurried home to see Pat Moleteri on American Bandstand and Annette Funicello on the Mickey Mouse Club. TV changed everything! I watched the Vietnam War unfold before my eyes. The Kennedy assassination captured all our attention as did the Cuban Missile Crisis before it. Then we began hearing about computers and the computer age burst upon us an we entered the information age. All of that has engendered cultural change occurring faster and faster. TV made us a visual culture. Computers brought us instant information and personal interaction beyond our wildest imaginations.

With every culture shift came a "new language." That new language sounded like English but the computer enabled us to instantly translate English into major world languages with a push of the button. Presidents and world leaders can watch events unfold anywhere in the world in real time. We are living in a different world.

And here's the rub: communicating the old message the old way no longer works! Traditional churches are dying because they aren't communicating. Governor Romney lost the election, not because he didn't promise to give away free stuff. He lost it because he didn't communicate. Just as the traditional church doesn't do well reaching younger generations across all ethnic lines, Romney didn't either. All of this is true not because the message isn't valid; it is true because the message has to be placed in newer forms utilizing different methods. The "old paths" are great but today they need to become multi-lane super highways.

What strikes me is the fact that when I traveled to Myanmar (Burma) I realized that to really communicate I had to have someone translate for me. Even though most of the students who took my courses spoke English, they didn't get the nuances and subtlety of the language. I needed to either learn the language or have a translator. Even then the message got blurred because my whole frame of reference was that of a different culture!

The United States is now a multicultural nation. Those who hope to get a message across today must learn to communicate in a language meaningful to those who are younger and from different ethnic backgrounds. That's true for the church; it is also true for the politicians. The message doesn't have to change! How that message is communicated does!