As children imagining our life as adults, we assume we’ll have a better understanding of life’s big questions. Our evolution from childhood to adulthood — dependence to autonomy — is defined by our belief that we will learn to better navigate the world around us.
We expected we would be in control of our destinies, yet each day, we are reminded that this expectation was (and is) wildly unrealistic.
Which brings me to today’s big questions and how they defy easy understanding.
Much has been written in this election cycle about ignorance and displeasure. There are many reasons offered for why people are angry, why they shout: “Our country is becoming unhinged.”
Let’s all take a deep breath.
It seems to me that our national mood is actually being framed by our childhood expectations. We want the world to make sense to us — we expect it to.
Nothing is more disappointing than not receiving what we believe we were entitled. For children, that disappointment spawns temper tantrums. When kids react with an emotional outburst, we send them to the corner for “time outs.” What should we do for ourselves?
Unquestionably, life in our country has become more complicated. Technology and change are a double-edged sword. They are drivers for wealth creation and opportunity, reaching into all aspects of our society, yet at the same time, they bring about tremendous complex challenges.
A big issue in the current election is globalization. Some say it is better for our citizens than the alternative of economic isolation. Statistics show worldwide wealth has increased over the last 50 years. But, has it been a transfer of wealth largely from our own middle class? Should we educate ourselves with new skills? In what industries and with what money? Or, should we just close up our borders? Not knowing the right answer to these questions in the face of layoffs, for example, is exasperating and destabilizing.
I could go on. Climate change. Poverty. Funding social security for millennials. Getting that recorder on your cable box to function properly. Daily life is a reminder that being an adult doesn’t mean you are in absolute command — it’s only a question of degree. None of us has all the answers, or a monopoly on knowledge.
Disappointment is visceral, primal and powerful. All of us have experienced how working through personal disgruntlement is challenging and requires time.
In my business experience, I have found that those times when emotions are raw are actually when opportunities to connect and find common ground are most prevalent. It is also the time when simple alternatives are most compelling.
As a country, this is a moment where our anger can either bring us together or drive us apart. Politicians must help us understand that there are answers to our challenges — even if those solutions are complicated and will take time to execute.
For starters, let’s not frame our mood as being one of national anger. We are better than that. Together with our leaders, we can work through the frustration, avoid a tantrum, and forge ahead to frame our country’s future.
Jonathan Aberman is a business owner, entrepreneur and founder of Tandem NSI, an Arlington-based organization that seeks to connect innovators to government agencies. He is host of “Forward Thinking Radio” on SiriusXM, a business and policy program, and lectures at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.