Karis: Who’s in charge here, really?
September 29, 2010
Empowerment. What a lost word. Who today feels empowered?
Compare if you will our early American forefathers, revolutionaries in their day, with the educated, urbanized and entitled American of the 21st century. In the 1700s Americans, who were mostly farmers, walked away from the safety, comfort and protection of their homes to spend six years fighting and dying for the right to self-governance. Today, most Americans can barely find the motivation to go to a voting booth for one day, much less stand up for the “rights of society” with their lives. Why the difference?
In the intervening 235 years, circumstances have certainly changed, but our freedom to act has never been lost. The difference lies in whether we choose to embrace our power and act, or not.
John Adams wrote that within every citizen there must be “a passion for the public good “… superior to all private passions” for liberty to exist. This liberty or freedom to design our own destiny is lost when we fail to think and act on a scale larger than our own individuality. When we fail to participate, take responsibility and see to the greater good of our neighbors, our community, our countrymen, even our fellow employees, we are failing ourselves – for we are part of that whole.
And act we must. By abdicating public responsibility and action, we are relegating decisions and outcomes to a few individuals with limited but vested interests, views, values and motives, disempowering ourselves. Filling the vacuum we leave behind, this privileged few are discharging their duties not for the greater public good but in service to minorities of the influential. They have become modern-day oligarchies, the few ruling the many, only now in a different form.
Today as Americans we need to stop and take measure before our absorption in the immediate needs of our material lifestyles blinds us and we become victims of our own indifference and inaction. If we don’t, we are sure to be faced with more encroachment upon our lives, our liberties and unexpected crises as these “few individuals” – some of whom are elected or appointed and many of whom are captains of industry – create our world in their view.
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The great gift of our forefathers is that we have, even today, the ability to effect our power as individuals, especially when we act collectively. It begins with being clear about who we are and what we believe – and then standing up for it. By taking small constructive steps, we find the courage to overcome our fear of social, political and economic backlash and express what we will and will not, in good conscience, accept for ourselves and for others. We must do this not just once in November but regularly over the days, months and years of our lives. In doing so, it strengthens us, ennobles us, defines us – empowers us.
John Karis is writer and facilitator in Blue River. E-mail him at email@example.com.