The right to vote…
“Hands up here who votes?” It’s a question I often ask of students, which is met with an assortment of bemused faces, occasional giggles or “but we are too young, Miss”.
“Okay, I’ll try another question. Hands up who had breakfast or knows what breakfast is?” This time I’m met with a more positive response as every hand shoots skyward (save the most recalcitrant “arms folded and pursed lipped” of students – note to self, keep an eye on this kid).
Whilst the Australian Electoral Commission informs us that, “All citizens aged 18 years and over have the right and responsibility to participate in Australia’s democracy by enrolling to vote”, it is a misnomer, and indeed self-limiting, to think the only time we exercise this most fundamental and inalienable of rights is at election time.
For voting is made up, as I tell the now-curious students, of two things, and two things alone. The first is our knowledge of the facts, which is an objective given, and the second and most crucial part of this is our own subjective personal preference. The latter determines which box we will tick, foods we shall dine on, sports we follow, transport we take, and so on.
However, as history and my own personal experience have shown, the latter is often not so much made up of one’s own individual preferences, but rather those we have inherited from others and not really thought about.
Drawing again from my past, the first political party I voted for was that of my parents’ choosing, because they, after all, knew what was best. Or did they? I know the first football team I cheered for was the very one so cheered for by my dear dad, because it was a bonding experience which we both enjoyed. But were there other, more “balanced” ways of achieving this?
And when I really thought about it, the political party didn’t really align with my beliefs for how the world should be, and football, well, it really didn’t excite me. In fact, spectator sports never have. Now this doesn’t make me right or wrong, nor my parents right or wrong (except of course for football!). It just makes us who we are.
And as beings of great enquiry, who look to the stars and wonder what lies beyond, we too are beings who now are increasingly looking to what lies within us and, as Walt Disney gently prompts us, we need to “keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things … and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
Never before in this age of turmoil, climate change, global pandemics and species extinction, where the votes of previous generations and indeed our own has cast ourselves, has this new path been needed. It is a path we need to navigate while “righting” those wrongs, and one we best do so using the tools of learning and compassion.
Never before too has there been such an urgent need to marry our right to vote with our curiosity to explore. To explore new frontiers of kindness for ourselves, for our fellow inhabitants of this earth and the earth herself. To inform ourselves of the consequences of our actions and weigh up short-term personal gains against the longer-term wider impact, casting our “vote” accordingly.
Whilst we all hold that right to vote, as we exercise it daily, sadly the animals of this world do not. Limited as they are, they remain captive to our species and our mercy. Nothing then should ever absolve ourselves of our duty to be humane. And so, whenever you are in doubt as to where to cast your vote, don’t listen to politicians, vested interests, Johnny the used car salesman, or even your friends.
Listen to your heart, for when you do, when you truly do, you cannot go wrong.