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Notes from the Nexus

Voting as a Simple Act in Complexity

27 Comments / in Blog / by Doug Silsbee

I voted early the other day. I didn’t feel any significant sense of relief, though it did feel good to vote for Hillary. But the election is still two weeks away.

I actually don’t expect to feel a huge sense of relief even if the election turns out the way I think it will, which is that Hillary will win, and win big.

Assuming she wins, I would really love to believe that the story then ends rosily. We will have dodged a bullet by not electing the least qualified, most dangerous Presidential candidate in US history. And we will have elected the most qualified candidate in history, who also happens to be a woman, which is more than a good thing. Both of those facts would be true.

But, the story will not have ended.

In fact, the polarizing currents of separation, racism, economic disparity, misogyny, and xenophobia that this interminable election cycle has exacerbated will continue well past Nov. 8. Whoever is elected may have a very difficult time actually governing.

Our Republic is a flawed but noble adventure that has gotten many things right while sometimes doing grievous harm. We have seen our government paralyzed for years by polarized and entrenched interests that have a difficult time finding common ground, even though it is absolutely imperative that we find it. Now, a demagogue has played up legitimate feelings of disenfranchisement and fanned the flames of anger and blame, fracturing our nation even further. To withhold a commitment to honor the results of the election process at the very core of our democracy is to put the whole enterprise at risk.

This is complexity in action. The election has seemed an astoundingly long process, but from a different perspective, it’s a short chapter in a very long story that will continue into the distant future. The process of emergence, of disruptions to long held assumptions, of high stakes gamesmanship, of acting from narrow sets of interests without regard to the larger whole… these conditions ensure the show will get more dramatic before it settles down.

I am launching a series of blog posts around the rich topic of what it means to live, and lead, in complexity. How we can sense the environment we are leading in, recognize what is at stake for us, and sense how we are responding and what other possibilities might be available to us.

This series of posts is not inspired by the election, nor will it present a narrative about how our country can recover from the scorched earth wreckage of this election cycle. I don’t have answers to this, but it’s clear that Hillary, our next President, has her work cut out for her.

It’s also clear that the US political process is providing a dramatic and current example of complexity that is unfolding in unpredictable ways that exceed our capacity to make sense of them. Note that earlier this year the UK voted for Brexit (based largely on exaggerated promises by dubious promoters,) and Columbia turned down a peace agreement with the FARC rebels that took four years to negotiate. In Columbia, 19% of the population voted for the agreement, 19.2% voted against, and 62% didn’t vote because everyone thought it would pass easily. Both of these examples are catastrophically bad decisions made by democracies that weren’t paying attention.

This is something we can all learn from. Finding new ways to sense and understand complex systems, and to act in them skillfully, is a central task of our times.

Do you know what the first thing is? Vote! You know my heart; follow yours, but vote. The outcome of Nov. 8 will not end the story, but that doesn’t diminish the crucial importance of this particular event along the path. It’s the first thing to do, and as complex as the world is, voting is really simple.

Then, trust that the process of emergence will continue after Nov. 8. There will be plenty of surprises. As Hameed Ali says, “Reality does not take breaks.” So, pay attention. There will be much to learn and much to bear witness to as the future unfolds.

There will be much for each of us to do.

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27 replies
  1. Kevyn Malloy
    Kevyn Malloy says:

    Thank you Doug for thoughtful, drama-free writing on our current complex world. And thank you also for reminding us that voting (and choosing) are essential to our personal and communal freedom, as well as being a responsibility we sign onto the minute we become a legal adult.
    I look forward to your coming posts on living and acting in this very complex time.

  2. Emily Sansbury
    Emily Sansbury says:

    Thank you Doug for your contributions to sanity and sensibility in what seems to be chaotic times. I feel there are better things to come! I have faith in our republic.

    “You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star.” Nietzsche

  3. Rod Francis
    Rod Francis says:

    It’s been an interesting time to have literally just left one borrowed home you mentioned in the post (the UK) which subsequently and shockingly to me elected to head towards xenophobic unpredictability, only to find my new home in the midst of such brouhaha as this Doug. I appreciate your intention to bring greater clarity, your willingness to open debate and to provoke reflection in these thorny and unpredicatable times. Hopefully from that some greater clarity may emerge for us all. Certainly any opportunity to step back and reflect on the true long game here is truly welcome on my part. Voting for me is sadly not an option at this historic point, though my heartfelt wish undoubtedly inclines in the same direction as yours. May this be so.

  4. Sally
    Sally says:

    Amen, Doug. We all play a role in the way our current reality has evolved, and we will all play a role in the next phases too, perhaps more mindfully. In intention and if moved, in action, to bring more peaceable and positive forces into being. At the sake of not adding too long of a reply here, your message was meaningful to me and one in which I strongly connect to — and knowing that even if I didn’t, I celebrate that we are in a relationship/industry that allows these essential conversations to happen in a more productive, generative way.

  5. Linda Herrin
    Linda Herrin says:

    There is nothing like mindfulness to get one through the chaos and fright that this election season has engendered. I continue working on staying in the here and now even as I take measures to vote in the state I just moved to.

  6. Kathy Molloy
    Kathy Molloy says:

    Beautifully said, Doug! Not voting is both cynical and disrespectful to those who have fought and worked hard, some giving their lives, to make slow but necessary changes in our system. Each one of us matters in this complex web. Our democracy is fragile and we each hold it in our hands. Let us have the strength to nurture our delicate gift, rather than crush it with indifference.

  7. Wanda Dabrowski
    Wanda Dabrowski says:

    Great message Doug! Although I am a Canadian, I have been watching what’s happening in the U.S. election very closely and share your concerns about the divisiveness and blame. Personally I would not want to be led by someone who fans those flames for their own ego. Thank you for opening up the conversation and encouraging people to come together, no matter what their politics view are, to have productive dialogue for the betterment of society and your country.

  8. Martha Hennessey
    Martha Hennessey says:

    Thank you for this, Doug. It has been a wild and challenging time to be running for office, even at the state level. I fear what has been unleashed, although I am trying to remain hopeful. The level of hate and bullying has been discouraging. Disheartening. Even deplorable. If only we can heal as quickly as we tumbled into tumult. Fingers crossed.

  9. John Rizzardi
    John Rizzardi says:

    After a pleasure trip to Europe, I returned to the tawdry dumpster that is our presidential election. My antidote was to vote. We have mail in ballots, so last weekend my wife, our daughter and I met over Sunday morning coffee and discussed our choices. When we did not agree we did not bring out the slurs or irrelevant hyperbole. There were no nasty women or men. We were three citizens doing what we could do to participate. It was cathartic.

  10. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Thank you for writing this important message. I am your Canadian neighbour and so will not be voting, but will being watching closely and sending you my ‘virtual’ support!

  11. Susi Willis
    Susi Willis says:

    Keep me in this loop Doug. I appreciate the sentiments you are sharing and share your belief that there is much more to address and try to understand post the election. Thanks for offering this dialog.

  12. Kosmas Michail
    Kosmas Michail says:

    Excellent initiative Doug to address the election issue in such a meaningful way.
    For me the big question is how individuals like Trump can be considered as candidates for President of the USA. How individuals like Trump can reach authority positions to affect millions.
    You make reference to complexity and to democracy. I will add also entropy, as a 100% sure process representing disorder and randomness. Can we have democracy, can we address disorder?

  13. June Boyle
    June Boyle says:

    Doug, thank you for a great article. Whilst I am unable to vote in the US, I have many strong connections with America, my vote would be with Hilary. I lived and worked in Colombia for 3 years in the 90’s and the idea of peace would have been wonderful. A country I know that has stood for doing the right thing and standing against such groups has been a key part of their intention for many years. We all are free to choose to vote however the consequences not can be significant. Brexit definitely surprised a lot of people in the UK and ofcourse those at the heart of the Out Campaign then decided it wasn’t for them to deliver the decision. I find myself questioning what was their real intention and commitment. I have also witnessed the divide in Scotland between the Yes and No voting for independence has been running these last couple of years. Often described as Head over Heart type decision. The debate for independence is back given the Brexit situation. Look forward to more reflections as the months unfold.

  14. Rosemary Somich
    Rosemary Somich says:

    Thank you! I agree with all that has been said here in reply. Thank you to the Canadians who have chimed in here.
    I just returned from three weeks abroad traveling through The Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and a bit of northern France. I guess we are regarded as “friendly Americans” as the natives of the different countries that
    felt comfortable asking us about our feelings on the election were also comfortable stating they would like us to know, “the world is watching” and we see “America as great and as a model”. So, I am passing on those sentiments and encouraging everyone to vote and to know we are not the only ones worrying about the outcome of this election. Thanks for your blog as an opportunity to feel “safe” to share our thoughts.

  15. Scott Ferguson
    Scott Ferguson says:

    Wow, Doug, how eloquent.

    So far I have limited my thoughts about this to conversations among my fellow Canadians. You express my concerns far better than I could.

    Over my lifetime, I have enquired into the lives and work of several of your Presidents, and I quote them often, because they exude fine leadership qualities that could benefit just about anyone. So I became one of many who gave one of the presidential candidates in this election “21 days” to flame out. I turned out to be horribly wrong. So did so many of my assumptions.

    In addition to all that you wrote, I am bewildered by the force of emotion over rationale or common sense. About 48 hours ago, with just 2 weeks to go in such a long campaign, I sat stunned to watch a presidential candidate display, in the first 60 seconds of bombast, that I, a foreigner with no stake or interest in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, know more about it that he does, and that he purports to fix a policy of momentous significance while he doesn’t even grasp its objective or scope. This is just one of many examples. And this from an applicant for the desk of FDR and Abraham Lincoln. And the public outrage I expected from his lack of basic understanding turned out to be somewhat of a shrug of shoulders while that same candidate rose in the polls. (???)

    Perhaps a search for root causes of such force of emotion might be a wise guide into an investigation of the complexity of this situation.

    In the midst of this, it warms my heart to see glimmers of hope. Sounds of concern and yet calm wisdom in voices like David Gergen, a person whose life work has supported both major parties, amid the wisdom of many others. The surfacing of tough, sometimes ugly issues, so they may be granted proper examination. Michael Moore’s sensitive exploration of touchy factors, such as the impact of technology and climate change on the nature of work, that have robbed large segments of the US population of their original “dream”, and have left them indeed feeling “robbed” and waiting for a saviour to “make things right again”, as well as evidence, collected in places of struggle such as Flint, that such disruption has the potential to actually bring people together in a positive way. And no image more encouraging than the truly inspirational long and thick lines in the hot sun of people patiently waiting to vote early. Beautiful.

    May those lines continue to make their long way to that all important place, the polling booth.


  16. Zeb Gray
    Zeb Gray says:

    I too will vote for HRC but take exception to the characterization of her being the most qualified candidate for POTUS in US history. James Monroe our fifth president was a Revolutionary War veteran, delegate to the Continental Congress, diplomat in negotiating the Louisiana Purchase, governor of Virginia, US senator, Secretary of State, Secretary of War, and a lawyer like Mrs. Clinton. She is a woman and I agree “that is more than a good thing”. Thanks Doug!

  17. Brigitte
    Brigitte says:

    being European I cannot take part in the election process either but I highly appreciated your thoughts and the encouragement for everyone to vote.

  18. BeBe Kelly-Serrato
    BeBe Kelly-Serrato says:

    I will vote when my paper ballot arrives, I am experiencing some significant neck pain and my Mother’s knee flared up swollen with arthritis. I don’t feel it would be safe to have her stand or sit at a voting machine. While I could drive to an early voting location here in Houston, TX the lines and length are unpredictable and standing for too long a time could cause more pain for me. I’m working with a rehabilitative specialist to improve posture and committing to exercises to do away with the pain so I can be free to vote. This year I’ve opted to have a paper ballot sent to my home and one for my MOM too she’s 86 years old and this year I had to help her by signing as a witness so she could send in her application and will be assisting her with her vote as well.

    We recently decided that we are both not sitting well with the RNC’s candidate and both of us are or have been republicans for years. But this year is a train wreck and I can’t for the life reason understand how Donald Trump of all people ever made it accept the nomination for the Republican party. I also don’t see how there isn’t a stricter set of requirements for the people who run for the highest office of our Republic.

    I can see how the reasoning for Secretary Clinton would be a choice that anyone would feel safer and feel good about voting for her. I respect anyone who does vote for her and quite frankly I think she will most likely win. I also feel that even if I don’t vote for her which I will not because I believe that unfortunately there are too many unanswered questions that she has left open with regard to her integrity. This is the only reason I can’t bring myself to vote for her because I don’t trust her and I feel that she will continue on the same track that Obama has governed. She will not, however, destroy the country. She will win again Donald regardless of how I vote.

    Since I’m left with two choices I which quite literally turn my stomach, I’ve decided to vote for Gary Johnson and his Vice Mr. Weld. Both are leaders who were Governors and former Republicans who have a track record which is admirable. When questioned by media reporters they share in answering questions without running over each other. They stick to the talking points, they don’t deflect, and they didn’t sling any mud at either Hillary or Trump, instead they provided facts. For me, this was like listening to a breath of fresh air and I wished that they had been included in the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates.

    I am miffed as to why they are getting little if any air time from the media at all, they are not even noticed, they are on the ballot as the Independent candidate and getting no attention at all from the any of the news media. I do believe that the election from that standpoint is rigged.

    At least I know that voting for the Johnson ticket is not voting for Trump and I feel very good about this decision. If there were any way to swing this vote to give these two guys a chance I think our country might have a promise for good change. At least we both know that Hillary is not going to let the country fail on her watch. I’m waiting to see the outcome, but no matter what happens I know our Republic will survive, I really don’t want to see Trump in office, he’s not equipped to lead as President! I’m ok with Hillary but would feel much better with someone like Gary Johnson.

  19. Linda Furness
    Linda Furness says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic, Doug. I’ve been thinking about the challenges of our current climate a lot – the pull towards fear and discouragement, blame and separation, and the importance of finding small actions we can take in hopes that they will be a nudge in a positive direction. Looking forward to more posts, and thanks for sharing!

  20. Greg Duncan
    Greg Duncan says:

    Thank you Doug…I very much enjoyed this thoughtful blog, finding it insightful and on point in so many ways. Like others, I find this election cycle so very painful because of the broad rhetoric that has stirred to the surface the wide ranging disparities that exist, not just in our society, but all societies. An ugly darkness has been unleashed and openly brought forth in a way that touches many fears, old wounds, intolerance, and emotions around right & wrong. The many dichotomies around race, religion, nationality, education, wealth & poverty, equality, and opportunity have been thrust into the open, not for the purpose of civil discourse, but as distorted appeals to manipulate. Thus, our current political system has reached its ceiling of complexity for how it’s able to respond and address such divisive and diverse concerns. Yet, it’s also with hope and faith in this system, that from this uncertainty there might emerge our humanness as a society, that will work with whatever outcome occurs. This week I cast my vote of Hillary Clinton and am hopeful in what I perceive as the choice which represents the best path towards healing and inclusiveness.

  21. Sharon Ilstrup
    Sharon Ilstrup says:

    No truer words have been spoken. I wish Doug were still with us to guide us through one of the (if not THE) most complex time in the history of the United States. He is sorely missed.


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