The Venn diagram is a great way of illustrating the concept of “me, you, and us”—or, if you will, “yours, mine, and ours.”
This is a central reality of human existence: as social creatures, there are parts of our experience that represent only our own interests, rights, and responsibilities. There are areas in which we have shared interests, rights, and responsibilities. And there are areas that belong to “you”—whoever “you” may be—and that are none of my business.
If we could all just get it straight which parts of life fall into which category, a great many of the world’s problems would be solved.
Concepts like compassion, morality, and responsibility can all be illustrated by use of a Venn diagram. We all decide what we believe to be “yours, mine, and ours” when—consciously or unconsciously—we answer questions like these:
- To what extent is my life my own and nobody else’s?
- How much should I care about other people’s feelings or well-being?
- Am I responsible for trying to improve the lives of people I don’t know personally?
- Should people protect the well-being of other living creatures—including the overall health of life on earth?
In a democracy, answers to questions like these motivate everything we do—including whether or not we choose to participate in government, and how. In America, that means deciding whether we are Democrat, Republican, L(l)ibertarian, or “other.”
The “other” category now includes those “tea-party conservatives” whose goals, if any, seem to be 1) to bring back the “Golden Years” of Bush-Cheney and 2) pay no taxes, no how, for nothin’, if possible.
Government represents the “us” part of the Venn diagram. It’s the way each family, community, or nation organizes itself for the good of the whole.
In the beginning, there was considerable debate among the nation’s founders about how “us” should be defined. Should it include only males? Only whites? Only the wealthy? If yes, what responsibility did these decision makers have toward others? We still struggle with the same questions:
- Does a woman have a right to decide whether to bear a child?
- Does a child who has lived here all her life but is not a citizen have a right to be educated?
- Should public policies consider the needs of the poor and middle class as well as the rich?
The founders were not deluded—as many Americans seem to be today—into thinking that the documents they produced (The Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights) settled anything, once and for all. They knew that the principles of freedom and democracy they set forth in these documents would have to be studied, understood, adapted, and defended as long as the nation endures—that preserving them would require, to borrow a cliché, “eternal vigilance.”
In America, the government is “us.” To be anti-government in America is to be, in my opinion, anti-American. It puzzles me no end that the people most negative about the American government and its leaders are often those who go out of their way to call themselves “patriots.” By definition, patriots are those who love, support, and defend their country.
You can’t love your country without respecting its history and its government. You can’t support your country without supporting its leaders to the greatest extent possible. You can’t defend the country without actively participating.
Unfortunately, we all seem to remember all that only when the country is at war or under attack, as in the weeks after 9/11.
If only we could all be "patriots" during ordinary times--citizen-participants who choose our attitudes and actions for the good of the country and all its inhabitants.
In all of our millions and with all our wealth as a nation, just imagine what we could accomplish.