A Unique New Year’s Resolution and the Iowa Caucus

If you are like me, you believe New Year’s Resolutions are made to be broken. I struggle with resolutions. I’ve already failed three of the top twelve resolutions Americans make.  Lose weight? I always break that during football games on January 1st. Stop drinking? Again, January 1st football games. Eat healthy foods? Nachos, pizza, and burgers, all on January 1st.

January 1st is the day I resolve to make the hardest resolution I’ve ever had to make (and I make throughout the year) – to forgive myself.

To be more forgiving of one’s self and of others is certainly a resolution worth making, but the Iowa Caucus tonight reminds me of another resolution worthy of discussion. It’s a resolution few people will make this year. And it’s a resolution you are bound to break. Sometime during this first week of 2012, you are likely to be asked, “What’s your New Year’s Resolution?” Imagine their response when you reply, “I’m going to end scapegoating.”

It’s a big task. Scapegoating infects our culture, our lives, and our politics. For example, the Iowa Caucus is tonight and we find candidates scrambling to define themselves over and against their opponents. Mitt Romney, who seems to be the front-runner in Iowa, has attacked President Obama, accusing him of creating an entitlement society in the U.S. Romney said that Obama’s continued policies would “poison the American spirit by pitting one American against another and engaging in class warfare.” He went on to say, “I prefer an America that is one nation under God and I will keep it that way.” While Romney attacks Obama, a Super PAC backing him has spent $3 million on ads slamming Romney’s Republican opponents. And Romney’s opponents have responded with similar attack ads. Greg Sargent of the Washington Post warns that this is just the beginning of negative ads run by Super PACs:

We are going to see hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of ads bombarding millions of voters for months on end, with no knowledge of who is paying for them, no accountability at all for the candidates who are directly benefiting from them, and no meaningful effort to rebut the countless lies, distortions and sleazy attacks they’ll be leveling on a daily basis — ones that will directly impact who controls Congress and the White House next year.”

That disturbs me, but it doesn’t surprise me.  After Christmas and New Year’s Day, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that average folk like you and I spend much of our time in rivalry with others. You can always tell when you are in a rivalry with another person or group. You know that feeling you get when your uncle starts making political comments during Christmas dinner? Or the feeling you get when you arrive at your office and your supervisor won’t stop talking about her New Year’s weekend, and you know that in two hours she’ll come back and ask why you haven’t been productive? Your blood starts to boil. You need an outlet so you gossip to your cousins or your coworkers.

(Not that I know from experience.)

It’s true. Politicians are corrupted by rivalry and scapegoating. But so are we. We are, as James Alison says, formed in rivalry and scapegoating.  “Our programming,” as Alison states in his book, Knowing Jesus, “forms us in rivalry, and the techniques of survival by exclusion.”

I can guarantee you one thing during this election year: The rivalry and scapegoating will heat up. Republican candidates and President Obama will continue to define themselves over and against one another in hopes of gaining a sense of superiority.

How do we end scapegoating? There are four key steps. First, I think it’s important to admit that we scapegoat others. Yes. You and I scapegoat. We scapegoat whenever we feel a sense of superiority by hating another person or group. Second, we can stop scapegoating when, instead of feeling superior through scapegoating others, we begin to mourn our scapegoating tendencies. Third, we know we are on our way to end scapegoating when we begin to honestly listen to our rival’s story. And fourth, to truly end scapegoating, we need to develop the courage to admit that maybe, just maybe, we don’t hold the truth, we were wrong about the truth of our rival’s story, and we were wrong about our feelings of superiority over and against our rival.

It’s 2012. And it’s time to end scapegoating.

(For an example of how to end scapegoating, see “Rick Perry and Jesus: Strength and Weakness.”)