Standing up for what you believe in and having an opinion on an issue doesn’t sound too difficult, does it? My experience leads me to the conclusion that it must be difficult, as I have seen a pitiful lack of shouldering our civic responsibility to be involved in politics and current issues. And I’m guilty of it too. Voting percentages are always low. On the radio this week I heard a segment where they took calls on the best way to get out of jury duty. These are just a couple of small representative indicators of a larger problem: our culture does not place importance on fulfilling our most basic duties as citizens of the United States of America and participating in civil society.
A common phrase people use while in conversation is “there’s two things I refuse to discuss: religion and politics.” This phrase reflects some deeply ingrained, but flawed, thought patterns many Americans have regarding politics. It shows a lack of civil society. The essence of civil society is the ability for individuals from diverse backgrounds and of contrasting opinions to come together as co-patriots who are invested in creating the best possible society for all. This is something we should seek, despite the potentially divisive nature of some topics that are close to our hearts.
This article will dive into some reasons many people refuse to engage in politics with the purpose of presenting a rebuttal and a convincing case that you should be informed and involved in promoting righteous government, law, and media so that freedom and rights will continue to be protected. Participating in this way is an important aspect of the ideal civil society.
Why is it so difficult to be informed and involved? Although I am a promoter of taking action to support good causes and good elected officials, I am not immune to the pull towards apathy and the throw-in-the-towel attitude that so many people get stuck in. It’s pretty easy to see why involvement in politics and current issues is generally avoided. For one thing, politics is corrupt. There is so much backstabbing, greed, and gross incivility associated with politics that (almost all) mostly-honest, mostly-good people don’t want anything to do with it. The spirit of civil society seeks to reverse this trend.
Additionally, keeping up with the news is an important way to stay informed, and unfortunately, getting discouraged is almost inevitable when watching the news. Most people do not want that kind of negativity in their life, including Christians. Christ-centered people try to focus on uplifting ideas. And, even regardless of religious affiliations, many people avoid the news because they believe that being informed or watching the news will depress any feelings of harmony or hope. This view is justified when the media continually promotes a culture of personal attacks and turns a blind eye to truth and uplifting stories.
Another obstacle to being informed on current issues and choosing a side is that if you have an opinion and stick to it then, at some point, you will have to disagree with others who hold an opposing view. Many believe that this will inevitably cause uncomfortable and awkward conflict. This is because agreeing to disagree has, dishearteningly, become a rare skill. The loss of this skill is arguably the nucleus of the disease that attacks civil society today. Most people won’t listen to another’s opinion. As they are listening, they will focus too much on responding to what the other person is saying rather than seeking to understand the concerns of the other person, and then attempting to address or resolve those concerns in a compassionate way. Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, has said: “On the subject of public discourse, we should all follow the gospel teachings to love our neighbor and avoid contention. Followers of Christ should be examples of civility. We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for their sincere beliefs. Though we may disagree, we should not be disagreeable. Our stands and communications on controversial topics should not be contentious. Following this advice is a difficult undertaking, but will yield vital and lasting rewards.” This is a fantastic explanation of everything civil society should encompass.
This article does not intend to have an all-inclusive list of why people avoid politics, or an explanation of all the ways an absence of civil society affects us. Along with corrupt politics, negative media, and avoiding conflict, each of us likely have other personal reservations for getting involved as well. At this point you might ask why anyone would choose to walk into the dark cave of politics, only to find that, on top of being dark, it is also full of dangerous lions. Yes, I did just call our politicians and the media lions.
Despite the less-than-lovely picture I just created of what the culture of politics can be like, I believe that as beings of power we can choose to change our culture and better the quality of our civil society. We should gather our courage and walk into that before mentioned cave. We should do it because our leaders reflect us and our beliefs as a people. We should become informed and participate in government, law, and media. Our leaders represent us to the world and if we don’t say something and don’t do our best to elect those who accurately represent us then other people end up choosing our representatives for us.
Dear co-patriots. Let’s accept that it is a struggle and inconvenience to become informed and involved. But don’t forget, there are countless legacies of those who have already sacrificed to defend freedom and civil discourse. So many are now looking to you to continue that battle. Our ancestors have defended freedom for us, and we must defend it for the future. Ronald Reagan famously said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” In other words, if we don’t defend freedom we will have (sub-consciously or not) given away our freedom for the mess of pottage we like to call convenience, comfort, and complacency.
To wrap up the case for increased civil society, here is a striking quote by Edmond Burke said “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” You are good men and women. Please accept this invitation: decide today what courageous act you can make to promote civil society through an increase of watchful care to protect our freedoms and promote righteous government and law. Whatever sacrifice of comfort must be made, the rewards will be well worth it in the end.
Lindsey Zea is a Policy and Research Associate with the Madison Liberty Institute. Lindsey holds a Bachelor’s degree in History from BYU-Idaho and loves finding applications of history to current events and political debates. She also serves as a Policy Analyst with the Better Cities Project (BCP) and formerly interned with the Libertas Institute in Utah.