Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Concentric Circles Image

I sometimes write things that call for challenge or clarification. A recent comment from Mojoman was welcomed because what I wrote raised a serious issue. Here's a portion of his comment.
I also like your concentric-circle image. Sounds a little like a 12-step thing. Only thing I wonder about: If we pay no attention to the outermost circle, do we get the kind of government we have now?
Let's try a word association exercise.
  • You say "government". I reply "hopeless".
  • You say "politician". I reply "disgust".
  • You say "democracy". I reply "unicorn".
We live in a republic, not a democracy. Under media manipulation we vote for representatives but do not vote for laws. We have an antiquated constitution that contains some excellent principles but also contains some ideas that made sense in the late eighteenth century but not today. The constitution was written by educated and wealthy men who debated long about wealth and property with an eye to preserving their power and position. Advances in media, sociology, psychology and marketing have transformed elections into profitable events. We are male and female, conservatives and liberals, introverts and extroverts, poor and wealthy, young and old. It seems like most of us (myself included) cannot communicate with those who differ from us or have dissonant values.

I feel hopeless when trying to participate in the political structure. Hopeless is not a good, pleasant or healthful emotion. If issues related to government are related to such strong negative emotional reactions then one solution is avoidance.

Though I feel hopeless and want to choose avoidance I continue to feel a sense of responsibility. Last Friday Kathryn Grace wrote a piece that elicited some guilt. I feel hopeless, responsible and guilty.

I resolve this unpleasant situation with the concentric circles image. I devote most of my time to things that I can control, to things in the inner circle. This is the most rewarding circle. I devote less time to things over which I have some control, to things in the middle circle. I devote some time to things in the outer circle which I cannot directly influence.

My blog is a tool for the inner and middle circle. I think it is futile to use it to affect the outer circle. Don't interpret this to mean I think others should not use their blogs in efforts to affect large issues. Our personalities, experiences, training, beliefs and values are different. Our chosen efforts should be varied.

I work in the outer circle of trying to exert a positive influence on government, climate change, national health care and other large issues by limiting my time and exposure. I avoid rants and seek out balanced and non-volatile sources of information. I'll watch news broadcasts on PBS and I'll watch Bill Moyer's Journal. I'll not watch major network news. I sign some petitions and I've phoned the governor's office. I encourage Julie in her efforts when she supports a cause like the local food bank.

My main effort to act responsibly is to employ those who have the personality, training, skills and resources to have a direct influence on large complex issues. I financially support the American Civil Liberties Union, the Sierra Club and the Nature Conservancy. I'm an amateur. It's foolish for me to think I can directly influence professional politicians, corporate lawyers and wealthy organizations. I think I can do the most good by contributing to organizations that have direct influence.

Some responsibilities are never completed. I'll never reach the point when I can stop exercising, managing my weight or learning. These are life-long tasks. Likewise I don't think there's any hope of creating a perfect government. Rather it's a continuing task of maintaining balance and avoiding extremes. Nature illustrates the importance of balance between populations of predators and prey. Perhaps there's political lesson in this. If either political party ever gained complete control then we would be in serious trouble. I may not like it but perhaps the government that we have is about the best we can realistically expect.

I think balance is important in my personal life. I worked to get to a position of peace. I like who I am regardless of which party is in power. The concentric circles image has been a useful tool to attain balance.

I found some some books exciting and useful in searching for balance in my thinking about political issues and efforts to exert influence. These aren't political science books. I highly recommend them.
  • Our Inner Ape by Fans de Waal
  • The Age of Empathy by Fans de Waal
  • The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
  • A chapter near the end of The Happiness Hypothesis by Johnathan Haidt.


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