Whassat? You weren’t aware that we had regular national conversations? Not to worry; most folks aren’t aware of it either, but we do have them. You probably know them better by their more common name, the General Election, where every four years we have this big national discussion in which we ask questions, listen to opinions, and (in theory) provide answers in the form of votes.
The problem: We’re not all asking the same questions, and in my opinion, we’re not asking the correct questions, either.
The questions voters ask are all too often ones like: Do I trust this candidate? or Do I like what s/he stands for? or Does this candidate have the same “values” as I do? Some of us get really shallow, I fear, and only ask the question: Do I like this candidate?
These questions are all based on the candidate’s traits as an individual, when the questions we should be asking are those that explore the candidate’s views on the role of society.
Does the candidate foster and support my view of society?
This, of course, means that we should all have thought about our own view of society–its purpose and its role in our daily lives–which I encourage us all to do, because right now I’m not sure we’ve given this enough thought.
What is society’s role in our daily lives?
Is the purpose and role of society to provide a minimal framework within which each individual can work without hindrance to achieve their utmost potential? Or is its purpose to provide for the common welfare, protect its membership, and ensure fair treatment for all?
These options are not mutually exclusive, but they do contend with one another, especially in how we direct our government to address society’s problems. Efforts intended to level the playing field for business usually run rough-shod over workers. Conversely, efforts intended to assist our poor and those treated unfairly often put greater restrictions on business and require a greater contribution from those who have more to give. Our responsibility is to weigh these options and determine which provides the greater good; which option promotes and fosters the society we want to live in?
Society is more than me and more than you. Society is us, and government is an extension of us, the tool we use to build the society we want to build. As such, our deliberations need to extend beyond ourselves and take into account all of society’s members, rich and poor, religious and secular, gifted and average.
We will have to wade through oceans of rhetoric in the coming year, and it’s our job to educate ourselves so we don’t just fall for what sounds good. We need to think beyond our individual needs and consider the needs of others, so that the society we build is the one that is best for everyone.