One day in a forgotten hallway in the House of Representatives . . .
Democrat: Are you getting a lot of heat from your constituents about Congress not doing its job?
Republican: Not really. Most of my email is fan mail. You?
Democrat: My inbox has mostly “Stay the course” messages too.
Republican: You worried?
Democrat: Nah. My re-election is air tight. You?
Republican: Not really. My party bosses tell me that our fund-raising is doing even better in 2013. Besides, what can the public really do?
Democrat: (laughs) They could impeach us for not doing our jobs!
Republican: (laughs) Like they’d ever work harder or smarter than we do to get that done!
Democrat: Tee off at the usual time?
Republican: Sure!
Furloughed janitor: (overhearing while getting personal tools from the closet) I KNEW I should have gotten my doctorate in law and gone into politics!
“The government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.” Abraham Lincoln
We have forgotten that our government is OUR government. The officials that we elect are not aliens from another planet but neighbors (and so are the bureaucrats and other federal employees that carry out government services). It may be okay to vent our frustrations and to lampoon some of the silliness we see in Congress but it cannot stop there and we cannot wait for people overwhelmed by a broken system to make all the necessary repairs themselves.
We’ve asked Washington to fix problems that cannot be fully addressed without the active support of ALL citizens. Then we blame Washington for the inevitable failures.
Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare; are not  these  largely the products of a society that wants someone else to do the hard work of supporting and serving those in need of more help than an individual or family can provide?  Don’t states, counties, local communities and all citizens have to be part of the effort?
Is it not entirely possible to be compassionate AND just, inclusive AND discriminating (in the healthiest sense of those terms), to honor the ingenuity and hard work of business AND labor?  Do we have to buy the either/or framing of the issues we care about most?  Can’t we balance the budget AND be fair

Sure, comprehensive win-win solutions take longer to discover and implement. They require more of us than we can comfortably give. Being part of the solutions will require sacrificing some of our delusions, assumptions and comfortable naiveté.  But we are wired for servant-leadership! We loudly cheer those who give 100% and accomplish something of significance. Our own hearts beat faster when a worthy goal is finally within our reach. We rest more comfortably when, at the end of the day, we know that we have given our best to some effort that verifiably benefits at least one other person.
I don’t have a road map to the place beyond Congressional deadlock but I am confident that the direction is towards more shared responsibility, more public ownership of our national future.

The next steps are clear too:

  • For whom does my heart break? What part of the society seems to me to need the most help and thinking about them and their need wakens a restlessness in me that won’t quit? (Is it older disabled veterans? Children in the inner city who cannot read or write? Young adults in rural communities that cannot find decent employment? Etc.)
  • What can I do? (I can’t do everything and what I can do may be a very small step toward a sustainable solution.)
  • What else can I do? (keep answering this question until you run out of ideas)
  • Which one of all these ideas will I commit to doing today? What specific action (large or small) will I take today?
  • Who else needs to know about my plan of action? (Success is helped by a healthy accountability – knowing that someone you respect will expect you to follow through on your good intentions.)
  • Whose help will I need to take this step?
  • What resources beyond what I already have could be used to help me succeed in this action?
  • Who can help me to find those resources?

The step that I took today was to spend three hours drafting, editing, and publishing this article.  If you found any of this helpful, please share it. Perhaps together we can promote more citizen involvelment and better government.

What step will YOU take today?

I encourage comments.  There is also a one-question poll to see how those who read this article respond to the current Congressional crisis.