This week’s State of the Union address was overshadowed by the winter storm affecting much of the country, including Louisiana. The ability of Mother Nature to upstage events in Washington, D.C., was a potent reminder that ultimately, we’re not as clever or as powerful as we think we are.
Ancient peoples had a deep connection to the weather, often greeting storms as a loud message from the gods. We moderns like to think less metaphysically about the weather, reducing it to the dryly empirical terms of meteorology.
But the fact remains that even in the 21st century, humans can’t do much to control the caprices of wind and sleet and snow. That stark reality, made so evident this week, isn’t a bad thing for politicians to remember.
So much of political culture, after all, is grounded in the conceits of charm, influence and the zero-gain arithmetic of who’s up and who’s down. There’s nothing like a big weather event, though, to remind us of how small we all are in the larger scheme of things.
With that knowledge comes humility, and humility is something our national life seems to need right now. In acknowledging our personal limits, we can come to know how much we really need each other. That sense of interdependence is the starting point of consensus, compromise, common ground.
We didn’t welcome the winter storm that’s sweeping across America this week, but if there was a silver lining in this week’s weather, maybe it was the simple lesson of limits. We humans like to think that we control everything, but we really don’t.