October 2013 Newsletter – The Temperament of Today: How Am I Contributing?

I was inspired when reading an article yesterday by journalist Chris Matthews. In 1982 Chris was serving as a top aide to House Speaker Tip O’Neill during the Regan Administration. He told how after two years of battling, Tip and the president came together to shrink the deficit and pass the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act (TEFRA). While this passage was little known in history, it was significant because the house speaker “was not acting partisan but being cooperative in his opposition.”

On this day, October 1, 2013, the government is officially shut down; the House and Senate failed to seek a resolution after days of bitterly bickering, finger pointing, and casting blame. This game playing is far from being “cooperative in opposition.” Chris Matthews recalled how President Regan and Tip O’Neill made politics work for the people.

At this time there is much concern for how much blame will settle upon the Republican Party for the shutdown. Wouldn’t the citizens of the United States sit up and take notice if our current elected officials put down their egos and made politics work for the people?!

What does this have to do with me? What qualities in Washington, in the Congress, in our local government mirror my behavior and attitude? As a citizen, has my apathy gone on too long? Are we, as citizens, ranting about the “other party” as much as they are doing in Washington? Are we so caught up in who we consider to be right vs. wrong that we no longer listen to reason either?

We see people who want to be heard, and their insistence to be heard, such as the Texan who rambled 21 hours and into tales of Dr. Seuss, is more important to them than listening to their own party, let alone their counterparts. Is being “right” more important than compromising for the good of their constituents, for the people of the United States? George Bernard Shaw said, “The greatest problem of communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.” What was communicated to the world, on the cusp of a U.S. government shutdown, by our own elected official mocking the seriousness of the layoff of thousands of government workers by ranting and quoting Dr. Seuss?

I have seriously asked people of both parties, “How can we fix this attitude in Washington?” What is wrong with our government isn’t an isolated issue. Global problems are finding their way into everyone’s backyard. The problems are not now, nor ever have been black or white. The answers to problems are not evident; none exist without some consequences. Ayn Rand said, “You can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoid reality.”

On a personal level the issues begin at a basic premise. Where do you stand in your community? Do you know your neighbors? Are they people you report for the slightest infraction to your homeowner’s association, or are you someone who can approach another, introduce yourself, and explain your concern in a civil way. Civil way! “The word civilité shares the same etymology with words like civilized andcivilization. Quite simply, the root word means to be “a member of the household.” Just as there are certain rules that allow family members to live peacefully within a household, so there are rules of civility that allow us to live peacefully within a society. We have certain moral responsibilities to one another.” Are our elected officials behaving in acivilized way? Do I live behind closed doors and curtains blind to my neighbors, or am I demonstrating civility…having certain moral responsibilities to one another? Our neighborhoods are often so very different than they were 20-30 years ago. Neighbors knew each other, interacted with each other, knew the local children and created community. When you know your community, you are more apt to witness civility among your environment. When we are apathetic to our community, we are more apt to experience “civil disobedience” because no one claims accountability—no one cares. Are we reflecting the actions of Washington, or is Washington without civility because we have demonstrated indifference?

When we vote we are communicating our opinion for who we wish to govern, then we wish for the best and pat ourselves on the back for participating in our democratic process. For many of us, that is where our obligation to the outcome ends. Henry David Thoreau said, “But, to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government. Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it.”