Citizenship – “41,654 to 10”

by Glen

That great rebel for liberty, Thomas Paine, wrote of his take on the society of his day: “Society is composed of distinct, unconnected individuals who are continually meeting, crossing, uniting, opposing and separating from each other as accident, interest and circumstances shall direct.” That was 250 years ago and it’s not all that much different today – we are aware of each other but often remain isolated. Citizenship is all about how we handle that individuality in ways that brings about social and economic cohesion.

These summer posts were designed to help move that grand exercise along. I’m no expert, but hopefully the posts opened a few windows and doors so that we can consider possibilities. Put all together, the posts took up 41,654 words, and will be put together in book form – both bound and digitally. Yet in thinking of all those hours spent researching, discussing with friends, and putting thoughts on my laptop, I realized yesterday that all those words could likely be cut down to 10.

First, go big. This has been a constant theme in most of these posts for obvious reasons. Despite the ominous wealth and communication potential in Canada, we seem to be failing on so many levels. We need to have grand thoughts, a comprehensive vision, a workable framework from which we can build a broader citizen movement. We each have our own concerns, but issues like climate change, unemployment, the rising costs of education, and the roadblocks that encumber small and medium size businesses stand before us waiting to be addressed. The political system needs a reminder of just how important these things are to us. We want in and perhaps it’s beginning to dawn on us that if we don’t go big, we must just as likely have to go home, defeated once more.

But if we’re going to tackle big issues it is essential that we go together. To counteract the demoralizing decline, many of us have taken to fighting for individual initiatives in efforts to gain the attention of governments, media, corporations, and other citizens. But where has it gotten us? The inherent problems of the larger issues remain unaddressed, despite certain individual successes. The further apart we are, the less the powers that be will listen or act.

And let’s be sure to go humbly. We all have opinions and we’re passionate about our country. The present political climate has created anger and frustration, as we watch partisanship distract political representatives from the great tasks before them. That angst has frequently caused us to be impatient at not being heard, even with one another. Some of the comments to these blogs, especially as they dealt with taxes, drew fiery rhetoric that couldn’t be suitable in a public place, let alone in Parliament. We’ll have to do better than that with one another if we desire citizens to be taken seriously. It is precisely when we do come together as citizens that we enter our moment of greatest danger. Our diverse opinions and lack of patience with other points of view could derail us before we begin. We despise it when we witness in Parliament; there’s no point in us replicating that futile practice.

If we wish to be effective, let’s go resourced. We must request that our local civic administrations provide us the tools we require to function as effective collaborators in public life and policy. We are interested citizens and we volunteer our valuable time – a huge resource for the political system, should they play their cards right. We will require research, bureaucratic expertise, and political experience concerning legislation. We pay for it anyway, so let’s ask for it. The political structure is required to assist us anyway, so let’s test their willingness to partner with us. It’s not just knowledge we’re after, but a partnership with those responsible for the public space. Hannah Arendt understood this when she wrote: “Culture and politics, then, belong together because it is not knowledge or truth which is at stake, but rather judgment and decision, the judicious exchange of opinion about the sphere of public life and the common world, and the decision what manner of action is to be taken in it.”

We are entering complex and frustrating territory here. Though often confident in our opinions, we are about to encounter challenges that the politicians and civil servants have tackled for years and we’ll gain a better understanding of the hurdles they face. That’s a good thing and will likely result in mutual respect. And politicians themselves who have learned over time to be distant from an often frustrated and petitioning citizenry will have to begin the laborious process of seeing us as citizens and not just voters – no easy task in a political domain in perpetual state of election readiness.

Which brings us to our final two words – let’s just go. No more waiting. Let’s throw the ethical weight of our love for Canada into the breach by joining forces with our politicians in ways that are remedial. And let’s learn as we do it, recalling the words of Vaclav Havel:

It is not that we should simply seek new and better ways of managing society, the economy and the world. The point is that we should fundamentally change how we behave.”

The things that are broken can be repaired. Our distance can be closed by commitment. Our isolation can be transcended by the great tasks we undertake together. The great things our parents and grandparents accomplished in the past are mere precursors for what we can do today. We have lived apart too long. Our country calls us together once again. Great nations possess that ability.

Note: Many thanks to all those who have patiently muddled through these blogs in the last couple of months. Your dedication to the greater cause of citizenship has made the effort worthwhile.