- Sunday, March 24, 2024

As the United States approaches the 2024 presidential election, almost everyone agrees: We want change.

Poll after poll proves it.

The Pew Research Center reports that “two-thirds of Americans believe their political system needs major changes or needs to be completely reformed.” An NBC poll follows suit: “The debate over what kind of country the U.S. should become and how fast it should change has become a dominant theme at the national and state level.”

And then there’s this recent New York Times headline featuring its Siena College poll: “As Faith Flags in U.S. Government, Many Voters Want to Upend the System: Desire for structural changes cuts across both parties.”

The message is pervasive. It seems we are all singing the same tune. To paraphrase Michael Jackson, “This November, If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and change!”

But is change always something to celebrate, or should we be cautious? The answer lies in another question: Change from what to what?

You see, “change” means very little until you define it. The word is like an empty glass. What matters is not the container, but what you put in it. A glass can be filled with water or with poison, and while one keeps you alive, the other will kill you.

So, let’s go back to Michael Jackson. Before we drink from the cup of change, maybe we’d be wise to first “take a look at ourselves” and define what we want to change and why. Let’s “start with the man in the mirror.” What do you see?

Well, at first glance, you may be pleased to see the eyes of Michael Jackson staring back at you. These are good eyes: eyes that yearn to make “the world a better place,” eyes that cry out for justice, love and mercy, and eyes that want to eliminate all that is bad in our world and restore all that is good. These are the eyes of a savior and saint. We are the solution! “We are the world! We are the people!” “We are the change we have been waiting for. We are the change we seek!”

But stop before you walk away from the mirror. You might want to look a bit closer. As you gaze deeper into Michael’s eyes, you’ll see eyes staring back that are not as clear as you thought. These eyes are disguised and hidden behind dark glasses. These are sad eyes. They are self-conscious. This second glance in the mirror becomes increasingly unsettling. We are now making eye contact with a man who is tragically trapped and confused.

These are the embarrassed eyes of someone ashamed of his duplicity. These are the eyes of someone who called for “change” in racial relations while he “changed” his racial identity by “changing” the configuration of his own face. This is a man who championed childlike innocence while he compromised the innocence of children. This “man in the mirror” is someone who pleaded with the people of the world to grow up while he himself lived as a 50-year-old Peter Pan in the fantasy world of his own Neverland.

Do you see it? Do you recognize the man in this mirror? Those eyes staring back at you are your own. It is your own culture. It is your community. It is your church, your government, your school. It is you.

As Narcissus gazed with youthful arrogance at his own reflection, our political culture is captivated by the grotesque monstrosity of our own making. We look through the dark glasses, clouded by our selfish agendas while ignoring the wisdom passed down to us by the Founding Fathers. We deceive ourselves in the seclusion of our own little Neverlands, and we seem oblivious that much of what we are changing makes us look all the more fake, disfigured and pathetic. We are oblivious to the obvious that everyone else sees: Change if defined by the created rather than the Creator is an ugly and self-destructive thing. We look absurd, and we don’t even know it.

The glass of change will be filled. No void is ever left empty. The elixir of narcissism leads to an early death for all who drink it. If “we are the change we have been waiting for and if we are the change that we seek,” if “we are the ones, if we are the people,” if it’s all about us, then we should all rightly fear that we may indeed be drinking of this cup with poison dripping from our lips.

• Everett Piper (dreverettpiper.com, @dreverettpiper), a columnist for The Washington Times, is a former university president and radio host.

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