Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Politics does not have to be a dirty word

US Constitution
US Constitution (Photo credit: kjd)
Say the word "politics;" people react negatively. Why is that?

There are many definitions of politics in Miriam-Webster, but my favorite is nearly the last definition: "The total complex of relations between people living in society."That is how I see it.

Yet most people think of politics, as it is defined in the first definition: "Activities that relate to influencing the actions and policies of a government or getting and keeping power in a government."

That definition made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It would rile anyone. There is no hint of cooperation when the words "influence and power" are used. Politics doesn't have to be that way. It shouldn't be about influence and power. It should be about thoughtfulness and insight, intellect and understanding. And to use a different definition, it is up to us.

I've long been and remain a student of politics. I see it in the interaction among family members, on the school playground, i our communities, and all other places where a group of people are expected to peacefully interact.

I can't help but think that if we cared more about all of the people in a society rather than one political party over another, our government would be more inclusive, thus, run more efficiently.

But even party politics isn't a bad thing. In fact, it is necessary. I see it almost as a team sport with cheerleaders and the ability to win a game played by individual players. But where the rub comes in is after an election, when partisanship continues. It should not. Once an election is over, it is time to govern on behalf of all the people, not just those who voted for one person over another. And politics certainly isn't all about fundraising. Money does nothing for politics except act as a lopsided and corrupting influence.

While it is clear to me that we need to change the way our government responds to the critical issues that affect our society, any change has to be up to the people being governed.

We need to step it up when we select the people to represent us. We must step take personal responsibility with the way things are. If you are happy with that, read no further, but if you are not, it is time to get serious about changing the way we do things.

We need to start thinking, and thinking hard, about public positions and policies that affect our own futures. We must ask questions and demand answers from our leaders. It isn't enough to assume they will do right by us because they won't. They must be held accountable to those of us they represent, not just those who subsidize their decision making. When it comes down to it, corporations can throw millions of dollars at a politician, but it is the votes that count. The responsibility is ours. When we vote, we must know who we are voting for and why. Uninformed voters do a disservice to the rest of us.

Clean air and water, assurance of a healthy food supply, and protection of the health and welfare of all living species on earth are perfect examples of how our government is failing.  

We get the government we deserve. We deserve better. But that won't happen until we change our ways. If we want government to work on behalf of all the people, we need to think of all the people when we make our own decisions about how we feel about issues.

It isn't enough that we draw upon our life experiences to make decisions about how we feel about the ways of the world, our collective problems, and how to solve them. We must have empathy and understanding of those who are not walking in our shoes, the less fortunate, the downtrodden, the under-privileged. While our own life experiences are vital to our decision-making processes, there has to be more. We must look beyond ourselves when we decide about a myriad complexities such as social issues, like religion and abortion, as well as our natural resources, energy, and the environment to name a few. In many cases, we must look past even our locale to think of how the world is affected. We are after all an entire species of human beings and other living things that occupy a finite space. We have to learn to live together for the benefit of us all.

It is no longer enough to look to tradition to guide our principles. Our parents and grandparents did not have all the answers. And some of the answers they had were just plain wrong. Some of them were right, and need to be revisited.

We don't have to like where we are right now. We always have the ability to change, to move forward to a better place. What is our life good for anyway, if it is not to continually try to better ourselves, to learn more, to be more.

So, while no one likes to talk about politics, it is all about politics--the laws we live by, the happenings that affect our lives every day, the things that make us comfortable and happy or conversely, irritated and miserable.

But think for a moment about the men and too few women that make decisions for the rest of us. Right now, we are in a culture where our government leaders are making decisions for their own benefit and that of their friends. They don't consider us, yet, if we didn't supply the money, they couldn't afford to even take the field to play their games. It is our money that gives them the ability to do their job and our votes that put them there. Don't we have the right and responsibility to demand better?

But in order to demand better, we have to be better. Our public policy needs more thought, more insight, more intellect. Knee-jerk reactions to social ills is not the way to govern a complex society. It is not acceptable to step on the people hovering at the bottom--those who lack the money, education, youthfulness, or good health--in order to reach those with privilege at the top. Everyone has something to contribute in order to be successful. But to contribute, ideas must be well thought out. And everyone needs to participate. The time for change is now. We owe it to our children to make proper decisions, based on as much information as we can glean. We need to demand better and with this being an election year, there is no better time to start than now.
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