09/26/2012 01:00 pm ET Updated Nov 26, 2012

Who to Vote For?

A few weeks before the presidential election in 2004, I was in Ohio attending a conference. One of the university staff who had helped organize it came to the closing on Sunday, apparently with some reluctance. She was crying, and said, "I couldn't decide whether to come or not, since it is Sunday and I usually go worship. At my church we're told that to be a good Christian and love the Lord we have to vote for George Bush." Weeping hard, she added "And I'm already suspect because I work at a university, which promotes free thinking."

I was stunned. As a spiritual leader, I knew I'd be busted if I told anyone who to vote for from the "pulpit," so to speak. And anyway, I don't think it's right to equate enlightenment, freedom or salvation with a particular candidate. That seems different to me than discussing values (like compassion) worldview (like interdependence) or ethics (like generosity) -- and any real discussion, from my point of view, involves free thinking. As in the quotation attributed to Albert Einstein, "The significant problems that we face cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them." I believe that collectively, we badly need some different ways of looking at life.

But we also need to vote. This is why I really admire the work of and Voting is like alchemy -- taking an abstract value and breathing life into it. Voting is the expression of our commitment to ourselves, one another, this country and this world. And the imperative to vote is genuinely nonpartisan. When I did voter registration in Ohio in 2008, I didn't snatch the form back if someone indicated they were going to vote for the opposing party (I'm a registered Democrat, though I was an Independent for years). My ideal registration system would be an opt-out one, where every single person is registered once they turn 18. In Australia, I'm told, everyone is registered to vote and you pay a fine if you don't vote.

If every adult U.S. citizen would participate in the system, perhaps we would then also take the time to inform ourselves of the issues (not always easy in this day and age) and in addition, put ourselves in the shoes of others to try to understand where they are coming from (another thing that is not easy). We would all be better off for it.

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