An assignment to visit Eastern Europe for a couple of months has provided the writer an opportunity to meet a very interesting man of some stature. His background is in public administration, diplomacy and politics.
He met with a group of us and described his region, his country and politics in a very global sense. He provided us with profound advice for people involved in public life.
He spoke to us of the importance for those in public life to know the soul of the people. He wasn’t talking about soul in a religious context, but in the sense of their spirit.
His words caused me to reflect upon the ills of governments in the many countries that espouse the philosophy of democracy.
Lost is the concept of democratic governance being about ideas, policy and people and their well being. There is little consideration of the contribution of the common citizen; only their vote. The vote’s importance is only to ensure victory.
Politics has become about winning, at whatever cost. Governments are about ideology, money and raw power.
Democratic governments in many developed countries have taken up the mantle of people control. It would appear that not only have they diminished the role of people in governance, but have little belief in their soul and its societal imperative.
A genuine society is founded and maintained by the collective souls of the people who live and thrive within it.
It would appear that not only have governments forgotten the souls of their people; but they have little belief in society as a collective means for people to coexist and survive. Perhaps, most believe the words of a famous politician when she said “there is no such thing as society”.
This disparate state of modern democracy can be witnessed in the current American election. It appears only about who can raise and spend the most money to buy votes and claim victory.
In Canada, over the past several years, the collective soul of its diverse and multi-cultural society has been systematically dismantled to be replaced with a neo-conservative ideology that would have been foreign to most citizens even ten years ago.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, the government has abandoned the rich and unique soul of the people who live in the province. This collective soul evolved from the outports (fishing villages), their remote environment and the arduous struggle of the people who lived in them just to survive; mostly on fish and forests.
The province now has one of the most restrictive regimes anywhere, as it pushes its energy agenda without consideration for the people, much less their souls.
This was my experience when I returned to the province after over twenty years and decided to build a house on property that I owned for more than thirty years. An electrical permit took in excess of six months, despite the fact that I had a municipal permit and abided by building codes in its construction.
There were apparently only vague rules, no legislation that was provided, and overzealous government employees there to enforce; not to assist. One department manager dismissed me, like a beggar on the street, not a taxpaying citizen looking for guidance and assistance from a public servant.
How could one contemplate that the province in Canada with the highest level of home ownership (not mortgaged) would have to face the prospect of people not being allowed to build their own home, with their own resources, over time?
But, who would ever have considered that this bastion of free, proud people would have a law forbidding anyone, even if they are starving, to catch even one codfish from the ocean?
Rural living is under attack in most countries and in distress the world over. Perhaps, because it breeds such proud and fiercely independent people who resist the constraints of repressive governments.
The dilemma appears to be that society and its sustainability is always considered in the superficiality of wants and needs and not on the substantive basis of human capabilities and aspirations.
The world is awash with people of significant talent, capabilities and desire. The constraints placed upon them, by those that would control, neuters their ability to achieve.
When, in the world, there is recognition that life is about the spirit of people, encompassed within their soul, and not about money and materialism, life will flourish for all.
To witness the richness of life and the strength of endurance of people living in the poorest countries in the world is to experience a miracle. This richness of human spirit, under unimaginable limitations, needs replication in the developed world.
The test of a genuine democracy lies in the freedom of people to contribute their talents, capabilities and gifts for the betterment of all. It is not about the imposition of constraints and restrictions, in favour of the few, until the ability of those without to endure is broken or explodes in despair and violence. Democracy is about celebrating and supporting the capabilities of everyone for the betterment of all.