from A Midwest Metaphor
What could our democracy look like if we as citizens did listen to each other? Or if we demanded more accountability from our public officials in terms of problem solving, fairness, or accuracy of information provided? What if more of us had the courage to speak up and to ask hard questions? Or made the effort to think critically and consider differences in data and interests and values, and struggle with the tensions between those?
If we welcomed a range of voices, moved past either/or narratives, and explored the common good, would we make wiser decisions? Would we be able to find some bounds that defined civility and common sense?
In 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville studying democracy in America wrote:
Democracy does not give the people the most skillful government, but it produces what the ablest governments are frequently unable to create, namely an all-pervading and restless activity; a superabundant force, and an energy which is inseparable from it and which may, however unfavorable the circumstances may be, produce wonders. These are the true advantages of democracy.
But energy, unharnessed, can become destructive rather than productive. We need to reconsider how we engage with each other. Dialogue provides a channel that can help us to harness our energies towards finding and pursuing common goals. Rather than continuing in partisan battle, we can choose to begin to work together, much as gears engage to move a process forward.
Dialogue serves best when we as a people are confronted with equally legitimate but one-sided visions of the future and asked to choose between them. If they are truly one-sided, being forced to make a choice leads to a dead end. Sustained, hardheaded dialogue can help us to avoid making that false choice and forge a new vision that transcends the limits of each.” (Daniel Yankelovich, The Magic of Dialogue.)
The role of the citizen can be more than just voter, spectator, or recipient of information packaged by others. Citizens, who are willing to work together to make wise decisions about their future, are essential to a good harvest. Acting as a guardian of democratic values requires vision, effort, and active engagement. Moving forward means working together.
There is no “them” – only us. Our lives are intertwined. What kind of us do we want to be?