Remembering civics

Published on:
October 13, 2020

My oldest is taking US History in high school. When I'm inevitably drawn into a homework assignment, I’m struck by the simple elegance of our system of government. Three separate but equal branches — one makes the laws, one enforces the laws and one interprets the laws. Each has their own sphere of authority and all rely on the support of the others. Unsurprisingly, I have a hard time reconciling this textbook version of our government with current events.

What I forget is that conflict is a feature of our government, not a bug. In politics, conflict is the norm and the system was design to accommodate disagreement. It’s the competitive differentiation that politicians use to win over and motivate voters. The system has proven remarkably resilient (as I relearned recently) and has survived a fair number of serious crises, including the Sedition Act of 1798, the lead up, prosecution and aftermath of the Civil War, and the Little Rock crisis during the Civil Rights movement. It will survive this present turmoil.

Having said that, it wouldn’t kill us to be a bit more civil in our public discourse. As a result of this pandemic, we’re all spending most of our time in small circles of family, friends and work colleagues. For better or worse, we’ve discovered and developed coping skills and learned to get along. How cool would it be if we took these lessons out into the broader world?

A couple more thoughts.

Procrastination isn’t all bad. You can make it work for you. First off, recognize that getting an early start is no good if you’re going to fight with yourself to be productive. Often, we need to engage in what Mr. Donahue (a former English teacher of mine) called “pre-writing.” This means that you give yourself space to think off-and-on about the problem while doing something else. This is where insights originate. Secondly, block off enough time to complete the task. Don’t confuse procrastination with running out of time. Agree with yourself on a time to eventually get to work. Finally, hold yourself accountable to the deal. If you cut yourself slack on when to get started, you need to get to work when it's go time.

Once upon a time, fall was the season of flannel, football and turkey. Okay, it also meant there were loads of leaves to rake but that was just about offset by autumn foliage. But now the season brings thoughts of a second wave and the prospect of more time inside (with the same people you've seen for the past six months). How to deal? Chances are you’ve developed a few routines that have stood you in good stead. Maintain that healthy diet. Adjust your exercise routine for dark and rainy days (hint: Goretex). And make sure you get plenty of sleep. The last is super important. Between work and family, the days can start early and run late. And there are all sorts of things to keep us up at night. Make sure you allow yourself enough time to stay rested.

If you have any thoughts or suggestions you'd like to share, please pass them on by replying to this email. Here are more tips on making the most of your time at home.

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