People impress me. Most of us are able to run our lives much more efficiently than the government is able to run the country. It’s not the government’s fault. It was drawn up that way. Legislators must choose between yes and no, and there are greater incentives for saying no. To get through a normal day, regular people have to say yes to something, and many times no is not an option.
Thank you to everyone who worked on the Constitution. I know you’re all gone by now, but I thank you anyway. I think it is due for a revision, just like any bit of writing. (There’s too much ambiguity and too many anachronisms, why else do we argue about the Second Amendment so much?) It was a great improvement over every other form of government in the late 1700s.
Unfortunately, Congress is driven by arcane rules that operate around votes of either yes or no, with a few abstentions. Yes represents a commitment to action, a decision to follow a course. But nothing is certain, so failure and unintended consequences can ruin political careers. Yes can make the world a better place, but it requires legislators and senators to be personally responsible. No is a much easier vote. No allows for righteous indignation, noble defenses against government spending, political maneuvering, and I-told-you-so.
Real lives are driven by choices. Eating is not a yes or no option. Either you have enough or you don’t. If you have enough, then yes is implied and the vital action is choice and a decision. At least that’s true for me. I’ve never said yes to everything on the menu, or cooked everything in the pantry and refrigerator. Jobs, transportation, housing, education, and recreation are long lists of choices and consequences.
By the way, for those that don’t have enough, government’s no’s mean even fewer choices.
Most Americans excel at making decisions. Visitors can be overwhelmed by our menus, multiplexes, supermarkets and shopping malls. I’ve known some of them to simply surrender and ask a local to make the decision for them.
I’m not going to get into the wisdom of some decisions because sometime we’ve each picked the wrong option, gone down the wrong path, picked the wrong words. It is too easy to be judgmental.
Instead, I want to emphasize the skills we have. Our ability to make decisions is an under-appreciated skill. Fortunately it is a skill that immensely powerful. Deciding what’s going to happen is much more powerful than just saying yes to whatever will happen, or saying no in an attempt to keep everything from changing. People who are good at frugality or investing understand choices and decisions. They recognize that there are more choices available than what they first see, and they realize that their choices affect their lives. It is a powerful way to live and it is a power that is available to everyone, even people who feel powerless.
Part of my pessimism is produced by the yes or no culture and processes within our government. The government doesn’t have to be constrained by only yes or no, but it seems powerless and doesn’t realize that the very document that established the government also established mechanisms to change and improve.
Part of my optimism is produced by the people that recognize their power to choice the life and world that they want to live in. There’s a famous (and disputed) quote from Margaret Mead:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
I also like the corollary to it which is to imagine what would happen if there were so many small groups that agreed that they represented a majority. We The People then embodies impressive power.
I’ll put global issues aside though because individual choices are more powerful. Deciding to live more frugally, deciding to invest actively and possibly in each other, results in benefits at a personal level. Abstractions and ideologies are inconsequential compared to people living healthier and more sustainable lives within healthier and more sustainable communities.
We, you and I, have these powers. We simply have to decide to use them. Thanks to those that do.