Traditions still key to strong communities
I recently ran across a newspaper column I had written on Oct. 18, 2006. As I read it, I realized its message was as urgent today as it was 15 years ago. I simply tweaked a few words in the following message.
It is almost time for the two twin events of autumn: Halloween and political activity. I like them both. You might say they do have something in common; they are both scary. For me, though, it is more frightening to have lives void of fun-filled holidays and political campaigns. Both of these traditions are instrumental in building a strong community.
Halloween affords us an opportunity to pretend to be scared and laugh with others because we know it is all make-believe. At times, our political campaigning may look just as silly. After all, we have parades with signs, candy and candidates. We cook up lots of chicken, chili and coleslaw and eat while we listen to speeches. And, we knock ourselves out raising money, going door to door and handing out cards with pictures and issues with which we as a community must wrestle.
I have worked in ex–Soviet countries where people walk around in the gray somberness of communist conditioning. Oh, they wear masks in ex-Soviet countries but not Halloween masks or as health protection. Their masks are psychological cover-ups that hide ideas and emotions they fear will not be acceptable to the powers that be. They have learned in their societies it is safer not to stand out in a crowd. Don’t volunteer. Don’t be innovative in any way. Actions and thoughts are hidden or not expressed. Dictators and corruption thrive in such conditions.
Now, I think our imperfect representative democracy is just that, imperfect, but it sure beats the system where a small group of men go into a room and one comes out the leader. I do prefer our campaigns to the passing down in families the crown of authority. We do not line up military personnel and send them out with guns to take over the government.
We may have some unnecessary name calling and even a bit of harsher rhetoric, but, after the ballots are cast, we have traditionally done a pretty good job of marching off to the tasks at hand in a bipartisan manner.
Recent harsh climate conditions have confirmed that we must have an organized body representing the needs of people. The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the urgency of working in an open and systematic manner with institutions and individuals. Life is too complex, and we are too self-consumed to be left to do our “own thing” even on most non-eventful days.
I wasn’t raised in a politically active family. I married into a family of public servants, and I saw the purpose involvement in civic affairs gave to their lives. Through the years, I have realized the enormous responsibility our form of government places on all of us. We are to choose our leaders, and we have to live with the results. There’s no room for a nonchalant attitude here. We have to understand the conditions in our communities and the issues that result, and that isn’t easy. It takes learning, understanding, analyzing, discussion, debates and decisions. And during the battles of the recent months, I have to add an attitude of goodwill among all people. We can’t afford either name calling or sticking our heads in the sand to avoid conflict.
It is a temptation in these times to withdraw from the bitterness of the public discussion and leave it to others, but, if you don’t get involved, someone else will and, believe me, they may look at life differently than you do.
If you care, then commit to cooperation, conversation and congenial action. We need the best minds and the most perceptive and caring souls among us to better figure out how to manage our environment, our social conduct, our religious, racial and political differences and our economic interests or we face certain disaster.