In June of 2008, an elderly man was struck by a car while crossing the street, sustaining life threatening injuries. The driver did not stop. The other drivers drove around him, but kept going. The pedestrians nearby looked, but kept walking. No one came to his aid until a police officer, responding to another call, happened to come upon him. The man later died. One interviewed bystander explained the lack of action as an unwillingness to commit to involvement in the situation. In other words, no one wanted to take on the inconvenience of stepping in.
In the television show, “What Would You Do?”, scenarios are acted out before a hidden camera to capture how ordinary people will react when confronted with various ethical dilemmas. From witnessing the suspected theft of a car to seeing someone attacked, the program aims to reveal whether or not people are willing to get involved when they see a need. Many continue to step in and speak up, but a disappointing number will turn away like the pedestrians at the accident. It is simply too uncomfortable, perhaps, to confront a stranger and too easy to believe that someone else will take care of it.
We have gradually, but steadily become a society that abdicates the responsibility for solving problems to the government. We have begun to believe the government should stop people from losing their homes to foreclosure, provide income to those who are out of work, force restaurants to serve healthier food, pay for healthcare, and meet all sorts of other needs that used to be universally considered the obligations of the individual citizens. Our silent acceptance of this system is costing us our freedom. Liberty and responsibility go hand in hand. Once we allow the government to become our parent, we cannot avoid becoming children to it. And, just as our children are subject to us to decide what is in their best interest, we will soon be unable to avoid being subject to our so-called elected representatives.
If you think this can’t or won’t happen, simply consider the culture that has arisen around the career politician. The fact is, the very integrity of our governing bodies demands that even the best and most beloved of our elected officials ought not remain in office indefinitely. Your representatives may speak for you, but do they really represent you? Or are they actually trained professional participants in a process that has become more about manipulating the electorate than representing it? Gone are the days of the citizen politician, pressed into service by his or her fellows. They are being replaced with candidates groomed by strategists, playing a game of backroom deals, insider jargon, and a whole host of techniques aimed at keeping themselves in power and perpetually removed from the common folk.
And what do we do? Too often, we mutter under our breath, but ultimately accept our fate, believing the government-endorsed position that one individual cannot make a difference. As angry as I am at the abuse of power I see within our government, I have been vastly more frustrated at the apathetic complacency I find among many of my fellow citizens. Like the witnesses to that shameful hit-and-run accident, we see the wrong doing and walk away, hoping someone else will take care of it.
It is time for us all to wake up out of this self-destructive stupor and realize that, yes, someone else will take care of it. If you do not exercise your power as a citizen, someone else will seize that power. You are free to buy into the program the government is selling, but you must realize that the cost will ultimately be your own freedom.
As election day approaches, I urge you to wake up and take back the power that belongs to you--the power to choose your government. You are not just one individual. You are one of many. Yours may be the one voice that makes the message just loud enough to be heard.