I have been thinking about our duty as citizens in a democratic republic. As we are barraged with false and misleading information and as those in power develop more efficient and more manipulative marketing strategies, it becomes imperative citizens engage in ways which go way beyond voting. Voting is important but citizens also have a duty to become informed on issues, to hold elected officials accountable for their actions, to speak up against injustice, to make phone calls, participate in peaceful protest, and make our voices heard. All of this needs to be based on logic, facts, and compassion. Which is not easy. There is so much information, so many issues, and so much happening so quickly.
Because there is so much to process and check and we all have limited time and limited brain space, we may need to become a bit more ruthless about minimizing our exposure to misleading, inflammatory rhetoric. We need to seek out solid news sources but also minimize our exposure to the exaggerated, biased information which swirls around us. It is hard to maintain any objectivity when constantly inundated with extreme views which either encourage our own bias or infuriate us beyond reason. Post facts, avoid click bait, seek to inform not to inflame and so on. Friends who do not abide by these suggestions may need to be blocked, not out of anger but simply to save intellectual effort and time for the facts we need to know.
It is also helpful to show up in person whether it be to a protest or debate or town hall meeting. This is not easy for an introvert but as participant in the Women’s March, I was able to personally witness what it was about, who was there, and what was said rather than relying on reports about the event. Of course, even first hand witnessing is filtered through my own bias and point of view. For example, where others saw crude and vulgar signs, I saw parody and reappropriation of derogatory language and an attempt to remove shame connected with the female anatomy. Yet seeing things first hand gave me further information by which I could find validation or criticism for my point of view.
However and wherever we engage in the duties of a citizen, it needs to be in a peaceful, respectful manner based firmly in compassion and logic. There has been a temptation in the last year to think people are ruled by fear and emotion rather than logic and therefore in order to get anywhere we need to engage in inflammatory or hyperbolic tactics. But there is a reason peaceful protests need to remain peaceful and there is a reason to adhere strictly to thoughtful, factual, and respectful dialogue. Those who fight injustice rarely can win with weapons of violence because injustice is undergirded by those in power who will likely have more and greater weapons of violence. Those who fight ignorance and hate can not afford to engage in hyperbole or emotional manipulation because the ignorant and the hate filled are not limited by such things as logic or truth. Michelle Obama is often quoted as saying, “When they go low, we go high.” This is not just a nice sentiment but also sound tactics. If responsible citizens go low, those ruled by ignorance and hate can always go lower.
And those who fight for compassion and justice can always afford to go higher. For example, those concerned with diversity need to listen to those who criticize the Women’s March for not hearing the voices of women of color. While the diversity of voices chosen to speak at the marches was encouraging, still we can do better. We need to listen. When they go low, we not only go high but always strive to go higher still.
Living in a democratic republic is not free from responsibilities. We would all do well to hold ourselves to higher standards.