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When Trust Takes A Vacation

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We are fortunate to live in a democratic republic where free speech is guaranteed. Anyone can raise any question or make any comment about what government officials do or neglect to do, what they say or what they fail to say. A little skepticism is useful. Albert Einstein is said to have remarked: “Blind belief in authority is the greatest enemy of truth.”

Skepticism is one thing. Distrust as a political philosophy, however, is another. What are we to make of growing distrust between some citizens and the people they elect – even when demonstrable progress is being made?

We are told that there is not enough to go around so we must conserve what we have. Prudent use of taxpayer dollars is a must in any government, however, much of the criticism of how governments spend or will in the future spend money is often more the result of scarcity thinking than hard evidence of fiduciary irresponsibility as the norm. Scarcity mentality is a path to the slow and excruciating death of a community. It crops up in every era and eventually collapses for want of supporting evidence.

The people whom governments serve may from time to time be indeed be stretched financially if improvements in public services and infrastructure are to occur regularly. That does not preclude citizens – even those financially challenged – from making sacrifices today that have the potential to benefit generations to come. Ironically it is the very poor who, when the need is clear, are among the most generous, while some indifferent or apathetic members of the economic middle class seem to scream the loudest when asked to give their fair share. They find it easier to publicly chip away at good faith efforts than to chip in with substantial commitment.

Just as dangerous is the notion that the competent neighbors whom the governed elect are incapable or unwilling to be wise stewards of tax dollars. We forget that before elected officials were elected, they were persons who lived next door, shopped in the community, and volunteered to coach the kid’s soccer team. Following elections they are still our neighbors. Political office does not poison their ability to use common sense or to make reasonably good choices.

Unless every taxpayer desires to become an expert in the operation of a municipality, county, state or federal government in the 21st Century they must either elect good leaders and trust them enough to let them work or accept councils and congresses that accomplish little and slow progress at great taxpayer expense.

Earned faith, a hopeful public and a courageous press have historically made for more good government than a highly cautious, distrusting public ever has.

Fortunately for us in Cameron, trust is earned locally and no elected official wants to lose it by ignoring tax payers’ credible challenges to assumptions behind ordinances or resolutions. We manage to agree to disagree without becoming disagreeable and to continue to seek every opportunity to work together. Rather than trust taking a vacation, it seems to work long hours and even a little overtime in this city.

WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT CONGRESSIONAL DEADLOCK?

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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.

Why the Best Forms of Democracy Might Be More Local

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Why Mayors Should Rule the World (Name of a TED talk – click here to see)

During a recent conversation with a Gen X’er I heard the familiar complaints about “that” political party and “those people” and how the government is wasteful and enabling of slackers, etc. What I never heard was a single word about what he intended to do to make it better.

To be fair, it would be difficult to do. Members of Congress each represent 500,000 constituents and Senators serve millions in most of their states. How does one make their voice count?

My truth is that most effective political action is local. We live in a certain community, know many of the leaders – some by first names. Hopefully we enjoy good reputations and access to city and county officials is fairly easy and inexpensive. One does not have to be a corporate lobbyist to get a hearing from a city council member or alderman – particularly to address a local concern or to share an idea to improve local life.

Instead of focusing so much energy and verbiage on what Washington cannot do, how about more of us consider what we can do locally. If 50% of every local community were to be positively engaged in helping their cities and towns to work for all of its citizens, the ripple effects would be unimaginably transformative of our national “can’t or won’t do” depression.

What’s your thought?

The Government

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We hear a lot of talk about government as if it is some foreign corporation.  Truth is, any government (municipal, county, state, federal) in a democratic republic like the U.S. is only an extension of ourselves, staffed not by strangers but by neighbors.  In the end we get the kind of government we deserve.  If we take our share of responsibility for the way things are, we vote, contact our representatives, and serve as volunteers in the community.  When we are proactive citizens rather than reactive consumers we find government to be more responsive, more responsible . . . and more like us.

How do we help more of our neighbors to reclaim their rightful place – helping to shape a better future?