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February 17, 2010, at 7:00 am — Audio | audio podcast | Blogs / / /

On government: You are what you think you are

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The human mind is curious in that regardless of environmental variations, there are certain qualities ingrained within it, present in people of all backgrounds and upbringings. In the balance between nature and nurture, some things are still naturally begot, and a rebellion against authority is one of them. Tell a six-year-old to eat his vegetables and (with the rare exception) compliance won’t be the first response. We learn “no” before, if not immediately following, “yes,” and decorum and fear of authority are principles that we learn as we grow up in a tussle of trial and error with our own teachers, our parents and our older peers.

It’s not surprising, then, that the grown-up version of the disciplinarian, our government in the form of law enforcement and committees, is often vilified. It’s “The Man,” the cultural stick in the mud, the overbearing control that people must rise up against. Call it what you will, but the government as it is often viewed today has a foreboding quality to it, a “Big Brother” kind of blank-face authority that heartlessly implements rules in order to put a damper on free will.

This is, however, where definition is often misconstrued and perception misaligned. The original intention of government, as it was created in the United States, was to serve “of, for and by” the people. Democracy means that this abstract concept of a governing body is supposed to shift and reshape as its people see best fit. In turn, then, attacking and criticizing the government does nothing to directly change policies that might be displeasing at least, harmful at most, to the average citizen.

Instead, ours is a government that encourages active response — instead of wailing on about what’s wrong with the direction the country is taking, the United States encourages citizens to take that dissent and dissatisfaction and do something about it. In a nation where it is constantly insisted that “anything is possible,” opportunities are vast and choices many. It is therefore wrong to assume that “somebody else” — namely, the government — will solve a problem if we are not actively doing something to create a solution as well.

This is, of course, not to say that the government or big corporations — the backbone of our nation — are not at times inconsistent with that view, instead becoming a mechanism controlled by an elite few. When the big decisions about health care reform or spending on education are made, the hands that vote either yes or no are not literally our own. A few representatives in the Senate, a man or woman we’ve never met before, will make those decisions. If we’ve done our part in the government, however, we’ve raised our voices, picked up the tools and made enough of an impression on that representative for him or her to see how the average citizen would be impacted by their vote. Having that kind of say, having any kind of say, in the government really isn’t a right — it’s a privilege, and one that many people might dismiss or not use because they take it for granted.

And really, missed opportunities are no one’s fault except that of he who missed the opportunity.

The truth about the government is that it is what we make of it. In a perfect world, it really is serving the people, and hidden agendas wouldn’t exist (the term would instead refer to calendars being scribbled upon under the desk). The beauty of a country with so many backgrounds and interests and variety is that there is never a “right” answer, and that there is always an open forum for discussion. What determines if this beauty translates into this government, however, is how persistent we are in doing our share to continue the discussion. One-sided conversations are lectures. The government shouldn’t be a lecture.

Because rebellion, a fierce love of independence, is something that all brains are wired to chase, there often exists an urge to act against a force without thorough reason to. In looking at the government as a whole as the enemy, we do ourselves a disservice. Individuals run the government; disagreements lie with them, not the concept of a governing force. And until we can fully see the government as a group of individuals rather than a daunting entity, it will be hard to push for change.

Put simply: “Of, for and by the people” — none of the three points would matter without the other two.

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