(Apologies to Little Feat)
[This Commentary originally appeared in the February 22, 1990 issue of The Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel.]
So go the thoughts of the typical citizen towards the professional which includes our government leaders. Where does this conviction originate? Why do most people view the political world with such disdain and mistrust? Why do honorable persons circumvent a discussion at the first sign of political digression?
Fear. A mistaken sense of responsibility. A genuine desire to lead a smooth and successful life.
Of these three reasons, only the third stands out as legitimate. Nearly everyone you ask will counsel you never to get intertwined in a divisive political issue. In general, this advice deserves merit. Staying out of trouble customarily causes a happy and prosperous existence. We all like happiness and prosperity.
While intellectually fascinating, the average citizen will only land in trouble when taking arms in an intense political fight. He or she risks upsetting friends, family and co-workers. To the extent one desires friends, families and co-workers over the outcome of any issue, common sense dissuades one from entering into even an informal political arena.
The oft repeated command “You have the right and responsibility to vote,” however, implies there will exist times when one’s input will be demanded. Hmm, that’s a mouthful. Let’s approach the point in a different manner.
Suppose you are a member in an apolitical organization. The organization could be a business group, a ski club, a rock ’n’ roll band – anything. By apolitical, we mean the organization does not exist to promote elected officials or single issues. The organization exists merely to promote the social and/or economic welfare of its members.
The prudent bylaws of this organization prohibits official political involvement. There’s nothing wrong with that. For example, since people of all kinds of political persuasions enjoy skiing, it seems unconstructive for a ski club to impose any sort of political burdens on its membership. After all, the objective of a ski club must be to organize ski trips, not to organize political rallies. Said another way, one doesn’t join a ski club expecting to stage a march in Washington, D.C.
Given the apolitical nature of the organization, members often exhibit an unnatural reluctance to discuss matters of political import during meetings. “We don’t take any political positions,” cries the beleaguered presiding officer when the discussion verges on the edge of argument. This plea generally calms the angry crowd and the group then returns to the normal agenda and discusses such things as raising dues or ways to increase membership.
Sometimes, however, the organization cannot hide behind its apolitical shield. The organization, in fulfilling its fiduciary role, must act in an official capacity to promote the welfare of its members. To turn away from controversy, while perhaps the intent of the bylaws, may be contrary to the continued preservation of those bylaws. Indeed, events outside the realm of the organization may lead to the demise of that organization or its fundamental purpose.
To return to our ski club example, suppose Congress decided to tax ski clubs 50% of all dues collected. For some reason, the folks in Washington think only rich people ski and since they will be the primary benefactors in any capital gains tax cut, they can afford to pay higher dues to join ski clubs. (Don’t laugh, I wouldn’t be surprised if the typical congressman – or congresswoman – has such a skewed vision of reality.)
Well, if Congress really considered such a tax, you can bet every ski club in America would organize a rally on the steps of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Clearly, the impact of such legislation negates the previously apolitical imperative of ski clubs. (I could see it now – the Radical Ski Club Underground. Abbie Hoffman would be proud.)
We must conclude sometimes events require our participation in the political process. This might come about due to our involvement in an organization or it may surface because we belong to our greater community as a whole. Whatever the cause, responsible behavior exposes us to politics.
Still, after one correctly identifies when one should participate in political issues; after one decides a certain issue actually helps one’s friends, family and co-workers; even with the realization one must exercise one’s responsibility to become politically involved at certain times; there remains one final barrier to entry into the political realm.
Fortunately, as barriers go, fear tops the list as the easiest to overcome. One tends to possess fear when entering into any field. For most of us, we might get involved in the world of politics once or twice in our entire lifetime. That doesn’t add up to a whole lot of political experience; hence, fear.
Yet, with any new venture, one can identify a fairly conservative path to take. One need not go out on a limb by making a brash political statement. In fact, since the issue probably lies close to the heart, one can just rely on one’s personal experience. No other person can claim to be an expert on the personal experiences of your life! So, why worry that you’re not good enough to present your own viewpoint. Hogwash! This is America. Everyone has the right to say whatever they want (excluding various forms of slander and libel.)
So, sure, it makes sense not to get too excited about political issues that don’t really have an impact for you. On the other hand, it does make sense to get involved when issues can have a bearing on your life.
Whatever the case, don’t be afraid to take a stand, especially if you think you might be able to add some value to the debate. (Note: You don’t have to be right to add value, your initial ideas might lead to the eventual solution.) Finally, never think you can’t join in the discussion because everyone else is a “big shot.” After all, a lot of history’s really great ideas got discovered by little shots who eventually became big shots.
[What is this and why is here? See Interested in Discovering My Time Machine? for more details.]