We the People – On Being a Good Citizen

Nov 04

Last night in our final class of Channeling Aristotle we discussed the role of a person as citizen. Aristotle felt this role trumped all others.

Our professor asked us “What is the first freedom”?

Our class gave no strong response. His answer – The freedom to govern yourself.

We the People. We govern ourselves. We choose. We get what WE choose.

If we are uninformed about the issues, about where a politician really stands, about a referendum and what its objectives and consequences are, we have no one to blame but ourselves. We have become an uninformed citizenry, in an age where we have unprecedented access to information.

The media would also have us believe that we have become an uncivilized citizenry. What we see in the news is designed to inflame us and produce viewers for the news stations not inform us as citizens. It is our responsibility to educate ourselves. We must understand the issues and the consequences of our choices. To make good decisions we must understand all sides of the problem and the myriad potential solutions before we can come to consensus on potential solutions. I believe that We the People can do this in a civilized manner. Our problems are BIG, if we don’t come together to solve them for our children, in a way we can be proud of, we will regret it for many years to come.

One of the most important things I took away from last night’s class was a list of the Virtues of Civility (many thanks to Professor Seawell). These are virtues we should live by in all our interactions and we must teach these virtues to our children.

Deferencethe willingness to listen and learn from the moral storehouse of other citizens. What the media shows us is complete unwillingness to LISTEN – in our political debates, at town hall meetings, on “news” shows pretending to present both sides of an issue. Of course, this isn’t the case across the board but it is all that we are shown on the news.

Patience – the ability to wait attentively for your turn to speak. In this day of instant access to information and instant gratification culture, we seem to have lost our ability to WAIT. We need to reawaken or relearn this skill.

Empathy – putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. It takes time to stop and think about what another person is going through and think about how they might be feeling. In our busy world we seldom take that time. We must take this time.

Courage – being secure enough in our own values to affirm the validity of another person’s values – We often surround ourselves with people who share our same viewpoints, listen only to the news that presents our point of view, live in areas where people “think like us”. When we do this we don’t have to show the courage of our convictions or have the courage to challenge our own beliefs. We need to step outside of our comfort zones and have the courage to discuss our values, have them challenged and challenge those viewpoints outside our own. Just because we don’t agree, doesn’t mean either of us is wrong. The world isn’t black and white despite what the news media would have us think. We need to have the courage to consider that there is some “gray” that we might share somewhere in the middle of the black and white.

Curiosity – willingness to ask questions, rather than just air your own opinions, take an honest interest in the others point of view, seek to learn more – I believe we have more in common than the media would have us believe. We are all frustrated. One group points the finger at Wall Street, another at the Unions, another at the Government, another at the Rich, another at the Poor. Each group is correct, in part – this mess is inextricably intertwined. Without the curiosity to ask questions and seek to understand the complexity of the situation, we will stand in concrete and never move forward.

Equanimity – staying always in a frame of respect. Treating another as an equal. Evenness of mind or temper. We have got to respect each other and treat each other as equals. We are all equal in our rights and duties as citizens. This is the beauty of our country. No man stands above the other – all are created equal. We need to remember this in all our encounters with each other.

These are virtues we should seek in our daily interactions with each other, not least of all in politics.

I believe, that We the People can solve the problems of our day together and move this country forward. But we can’t do it if we can’t have a civil conversation with each other and a realistic understanding of the magnitude of our problems. No citizen is without blame so we’ve got to stop the finger pointing and start to educate ourselves, ask questions and share ideas in a civil manner.

Before last night’s class, my friend, Gloria, and I had been discussing trying to have some sort of citizen forums where we could bring together people with different viewpoints to discuss the problems and talk about solutions . Gloria and I don’t share the same political views on a number of issues but we respect each others opionions. We easily have discussions about things without fighting. We believe that the majority of our citizenry can do this as well.

I raised the idea to my professor last night and he has agreed to help us get a venue at DU to bring this to life. So we will be working toward the goal of setting these We the People meetings up at the beginning of 2012 to inform, discuss and try to build solutions together for a way forward. We will use social media as well as traditional media to bring people out to these discussions. The virtues listed above will serve as a basis for ground rules. Those who are not respectful will be asked to leave.

Together we can forge a way forward – democrat, republican, libertarian – black, white, Hispanic, Asian – Christian, Muslim, Athiest. We can defy the boxes that we’ve been put in by the pollsters, pundits and each other. We can step outside the box and provide a new circle of solutions. Our hope is that citizens from all walks will come to these forums and participate. We hope to inspire others across the country to do the same – bring your citizens together without the politicians or the media driving the agenda. Talk about the issues, talk about solutions, set the tone and move forward together. This doesn’t have to be done in a large setting. It can be done in a coffee shop or at your coffee table. Seek out other citizens that don’t share all the same opinions as you do. Start a dialogue. Talk about solutions, find areas where you can agree, share those ideas with others. We have unprecedented access to each other through the internet and social media. We can change the dialogue. We can solve the problem, together, as informed citizens.

Post your ideas for how to make this happen, how to make it better, subjects to discuss. Let’s get the conversation started.

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