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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Has Citizenship and Cynicism Become Synonyms?

The “silencing” of citizen's voices in our governance system is disheartening. Why have so many people settled for cynicism and given up about speaking out? It is as if Sidney Harris’ observation about a cynic is becoming embedded in too many citizens and becoming a fundamental part of our culture. He said “A cynic is not merely one who reads bitter lessons from the past; he is one who is prematurely disappointed in the future.”

I have recently read a book of essays by Margaret Wheatley, “Finding Our Way – Leadership for an Uncertain Time.” An essay she did entitled “Ending Our Silence” struck home and gave some insight on this trend.

She observes that “we don’t know how to talk to each other anymore…even nations where there is a strong tradition of citizen participation; people have stopped talking to one another about the most troubling political issues.” She observes the consequence of “…the silent thoughtful people creates a vacuum filled by extremists.”

We feel overwhelmed and helpless by the amount of suffering in the world and the complexity of the problems. She wonders if it is all “too much to bear, and so we choose numbness over involvement.”

Wheatley believes “People feel more powerless now than at any time in recent history.” Decisions get made politically in our name that we absolutely disagree with. This seems especially true for youth.

Others are afraid to speak out because of what they might lose. Some people in government are more about power than public service and they are bullies. Silence becomes co-option and one ends up forfeiting personal integrity and principles in order to stay on the “good side” of those in power. Wheatley observes that we want some significant change yet we delude ourselves that it can happen at no cost to ourselves.

Is it time for a wake up call for citizenship? I think so. As Edmund Burke noted “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” I think I have just found another good reason to be writing this Blog.