Friday, May 2, 2014

Learning from Afghanistan

Learning from Afghanistan seems like a strange headline.  What in the world can we learn from a country that has spent most of its recent history fighting in a civil war (with periodic interference from the US and USSR) and whose main export, most Americans assume, is opium?  Aren’t we a little more sophisticated than that?

Actually, there are a couple of lessons about perspective hidden in the recent Afghan presidential election.

The election took place on April 5 2014.  “The preliminary results were announced Saturday [April 29], showing Abdullah with 45% of the votes and Ghani with 32%.”  Because no one received a majority of votes, a runoff will be held in early June.  Contrast this with Americans sitting up on election night for as long as it takes in anxious anticipation of the announcement of a winner.  The results will be the same the next day, but who can wait until morning?  Network and cable news employ pollsters, pundits, and computers to try to take credit for being the first to predict the outcome.

We also learned that this election had a higher voter turnout than expected, nearly 60%, despite written Taliban threats posted at polling places.  Overall there was less violence than expected:  twenty people were killed and “forty-three people were also wounded in attacks targeting mostly voting centers.”  Some voters walk a significant distance to cast a ballot, despite these threats.  Meanwhile, here in the US with most polling places open at least 12 hours on Election Day, there is a movement to make it a national holiday to lessen the inconvenience.  “Some activists object to Election Day being on a Tuesday on the grounds that it decreases voter turnout. This is because Tuesday is normally a work day throughout the United States and most voters work on that day.”

Our different approach to elections and our expectations of being informed immediately of the results has a lot to do with perspective.  It’s another indication that Americans generally need to slow down and be more appreciative of what we have rather than demanding more speed and more access.  Perhaps if we practiced more of this behavior the news media would get the message and present more newsworthy information instead of trying to impress us by being the first to tell us about the latest celebrity engagement, what cute animal story or sports fluke is trending or has gone viral on YouTube, or what the Princess is wearing.

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