On the importance of being critical of one’s government.

People who know me know that at times I am critical of our government. Obviously I think being critical of how your country works is important. I know there are others who think we should love our country, accept it the way it is, and be uncritical of it. To them I say this:

I think you should love your country like you love your children.

Now that’s a pretty general statement, with a lot of wiggle room for interpretation, so let me take it out of the general and into the specific.

For those who do not know, my wife and I have been married for almost 17 years, and between us we are raising a child, a boy who is at the time of this writing 14. For the most part, loving our son is easy. He’s a good kid, does well in school, has a lot of empathy, and tries hard to do well. That doesn’t make him perfect, that just make him easier to parent when he isn’t. And let me tell you, no child is perfect. The truth is, almost anyone can parent a child that does well. Its when your child doesn’t do well that marks the difference between a good parent and a bad one.

For example, imagine if your child is having a problem at school; say they come home with a D or an F on their report card, If that happens a good parent isn’t going to sit around and say how much they love their child. No. They’re going to get involved and fix the problem. Getting involved may mean talking with the teacher, hiring a tutor, changing the child to another class, removing outside stimuli (like video games) that are distracting them from their homework, or a whole host of other solutions (including ironically, doing nothing). It almost doesn’t matter what the parent does, or even if they make mistakes (they will), what matters is that they make the attempt towards a solution, and that they target each solution to be specific to the child and the problem. This is because every good parent knows that if you love your child, and they’re experiencing a problem, its your job as their parent to fix it. They also know that if you don’t fix the problem now, its going to grow into an even bigger problem further down the road.

In the same way, loving our country is easy. For the most part America is an amazing and wonderful place. Living here is easy, especially when compared to almost every other part of the world. Its easy here to make a living, easy to make friends and form families, and if things go bad, easy to reinvent yourself. That doesn’t mean things are perfect here, or that you are guaranteed to not experience difficult times, it just means its easier here than most places.

But what if your country is having a problem? What do you do as a citizen? Well just like a good parent, a good citizen understands that ignoring your country’s problems doesn’t make them go away. They know that if you want to fix a problem you have to roll up your sleeves and get involved. Getting involved may mean anything from posting something on a social media site, to writing your political representatives, to attending a rally/protest, or even going to jail. All of these things, and more, might be part of getting involved. It almost doesn’t matter what a citizen does, or even if they make mistakes (they will), what matters is that they make the attempt towards a solution, and that they target each solution to be specific to the government agency involved and to the problem.

And just like with parenting, the truth is that almost anyone can be a good citizen if the government is doing well. Its when your government isn’t doing do well that marks the difference between a good citizen and a bad one. And also, just like with parenting, ignoring a problem usually means it will only get more costly to repair when you finally get around to it.

“But wait,” some of you might be saying right now. “What makes you think I should parent my government? My government is the one doing things to me, not the other way around. Its not my child. I didn’t give birth to it. Why should I parent it?”

Ah, but you see, you are the parent. Every time you vote you help to give birth, even in a small way, to our government. Our government truly is of, by, and for the people. This is the nature of democracy. Every time we vote we give birth to a new child, a new government. Just like with our flesh-and-blood children, this doesn’t mean our government is perfect (its not), or it will always treat you well (it won’t), or that you will always feel the government that won the election accurately represents your interests (it often won’t). But its still your government. Even when your government acts like an unruly child, it is still your government, warts and all. Exactly like your child is still your child, even when they act like a jerk.

Some of you might say, “But wait a minute, Eric. I didn’t vote for X,” (whomever or whatever X might be) To those I say, too bad. It doesn’t matter who or what wins. If the election was legal, then the winner is the winner. That’s how we roll. If you don’t like the result (and there is no law that says you have to like our government) then get involved. Do more. Work to fix what you think is broken.

And just so we’re clear, throwing up your hands and saying, “But the government is all corrupt,” (or broken or useless, or part of the illuminati, or any other message of helplessness that people say about our government) doesn’t cut the mustard either. You may feel completely helpless against the onslaught of the government. And if you do I will say to you, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” (because I am sorry). But I will follow that up with, “that still doesn’t change anything.” You see, there is no law that says you have to feel like you can make a difference about our government. (You can, but you have to get up off you ass to do so. Sometimes lots of times up off your ass.) Assuming your feeling are important actually gets in the way. How you feel is insignificant. Besides it will change anyway. Its what you do that matters. So do (or do do, whatever floats your boat), but don’t feel.

Finally, some of you might say, “But wait. I can’t be a parent. I don’t vote.” To those I say, “Fuck you.” And I mean that. People have died so that we might have the freedom to choose who represents us in our government. Would you ignore those deaths because you have to get up a little earlier to vote, or have to leave work a little earlier, or vote on your lunch break? Would you pretend those deaths didn’t happen because registering to vote takes some effort on your part? Seriously? If you live here, if you’re a citizen, voting is NOT and option. It is the bare minimum standard by which you should measure your citizenship. If you’re not up for that effort, I have no respect for you.