Duty comes with U.S. democracy

Monday, May 10, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:16 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Not many people in my circle are optimistic about what the next few years will be like in this country. The constant threat of terrorism is not the only consideration weighing heavily on their minds. There is also the economy. Questions like, “Where will the jobs come from?” are worrisome. While politicians are talking about job training, no one seems to have a clue about the kinds of jobs people would be training for. Many jobs have gone overseas while others have been replaced by technology. As far as the public is concerned, there is no news as to what the workplaces of the future will look like. The service sector can only provide so many jobs.

And then, those who have children or grandchildren can’t help but be dismayed by the federal deficit and the trade deficit they will be passing on to the next generation. Those who have to build their futures starting from behind will have their arms full trying to make a living and support families.

On the other hand, there are people who don’t see a problem with the way things are going. These folks have great confidence in the government’s ability to get things back to running on an even keel. They believe that the conflict in Iraq will end with the transfer of power back to the Iraqis, the terrorists will be rounded up and America will go back to business as usual. Already they see signs that the economy is well on its way to being mended. The rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer, and for them, alas, that is the way things should be.

Those who can’t buy into that scenario will probably face criticism and be accused of being incurable pessimists. We hear all the time that Americans were changed by the events of Sept. 11. Still, I’m not sure that all the people saying that believe it. I do believe it, and I don’t really think that any single individual knows all the ways in which Americans changed. I think not all the changes are visible, that some, in fact, run deeply into the core of some people. While many have a greater sense of our vulnerability as a nation, others have experienced a major revelation in the knowledge that their citizenship has made them the object of unbridled hatred. It is the kind of revelation that most minorities experience as children .

People are dealing with this knowledge in a variety of ways. Some take the position that the animosity people from other countries exhibit toward Americans is nothing more than proof that they envy our way of life. While this serves some by protecting their egos and vanity, not everyone is willing to buy that script. The majority of people read newspapers and watch television news. They are aware that our crime statistics, our eroding health-care system, our corporate scandals and our cultural wars are not at all enviable. These folks have begun to look around for other causes of this hatred. They are examining our foreign policy and looking at the way our political leaders choose to deal with other nations. They are remembering that this is a government of the people, by the people and for the people, and we all must therefore take responsibility for whatever acts the government takes in our name. We cannot make the excuse that we as individuals have not caused whatever problems have arisen due to U.S. actions because all of us are the United States. If there are consequences to be borne, we must bear them.

Among the other ways people have been changed is that some are making a greater effort to be informed on what the government is doing. They are taking the responsibility of citizenship more seriously. Some are bringing their families into the conversation on the subject of national politics. To preserve a democracy, they say, requires more than just going to the polls to vote; it requires participation in the process by attending forums and town meetings and speaking out on issues important to you.

While none of us is equipped to deal with irrational hatred, we can all monitor our own behavior and work harder to demonstrate the attitudes and beliefs generated by democratic principles. The ability to win friends and influence people is not dead. Every day presents a new opportunity to convince others by example that freedom, justice and equality are goals worth pursuing in small, as well as large, ways. We can make our schools safer for children by combating violence with models of conflict resolution rather than violent means.

Some people truly are making the world better through peaceful means. They are feeding the hungry and healing the wounded. They are bringing hope to the hopeless without ever firing a shot. They don’t belong to any political party, and they don’t win any big awards. They are people just like the rest of us who have chosen to try to complete their spiritual journeys without causing harm.

Those are the people worth emulating.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at

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