Reflections of an Ordinary Citizen…


This has been a brutal four years for anyone who loves this country.   We have watched our sense of propriety, decency and relationship with the rest of the world dashed daily to the point that, up to the election, it was almost impossible to remember the protocols that we always took for granted.  We have indeed taken our democracy for granted.  Since the mid 1970’s, less than 60% of the eligible population has exercised the right to vote. Voting seemed not so mandatory; the sense was always that somehow the right thing would happen and ‘my vote’ didn’t matter.  Though we knew that terrible mistakes had been made from administration to administration, there was this sense that the US Constitution was in our DNA and it would always protect us.  

That changed in 2016 as we watched guaranteed checks and balances bypassed and broken,  one by one, by excessive partisan politics the likes of which we never thought possible.  As we approached the elections, I had already limited most of our television coverage and had decided not to watch the returns. Fortunately, that position changed as the momentum grew around the campaign.  Choosing to watch the returns was like buying a ticket to a wild roller coaster ride: Do I shut my eyes to get through this stomach-turning experience?  Or do I keep my eyes wide open and dedicate my awareness to observing the ride, as well as my response moment by moment, with all the interior work  that would catalyze.   With eyes wide open, I took the ride of a lifetime – in fact, it’s not quite over yet; and we are awaiting anxiously the US Inauguration on January 20, when our President-elect is finally officially in office.. 

This is what I have learned in the process of staying open: 

1. Democracy is alive in the United States, but not without conscious participation by those whom it currently serves.  The US Constitution was meant to be a living document.  As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “[E]ach generation” should have the “solemn opportunity” to update the constitution “every nineteen or twenty years,” thus allowing it to “be handed on, with periodical repairs, from generation to generation, to the end of time.”    In a democracy, if that isn’t happening intentionally through civics education and ongoing participation in governmental affairs at every level, it will happen through constitutional crisis. 

2. Our current political polarization and impending constitutional crises have worked, though not without serious damage.  This election had the largest voter turnout in the history of the US: as of November 16 almost 70%, with the top most embattled states over 75%.  Even with the pandemic’s impact on changing election processes, young people (ages 18-29) voted early in massive numbers: More than 10 million youth cast ballots, either in person or by mail, before Election Day.  As the pandemic dramatically altered the way this election campaign has been run, opportunities to volunteer have been the most varied ever in the US. Most of my colleagues and friends were involved in a popular form of volunteer service in which thousands of people called, texted or hand-wrote personal cards to thousands of undecided voters. Interestingly, their message was about why they should vote, not about whom to vote for.  This was deeply moving for the people I know who volunteered in this way.

This election has been a much needed civics lesson for many US citizens, too many of whom have no idea how the US government works.  After the last four years, in which even the President and his allies seemed not to have a working understanding of their responsibilities,  there are significantly more of us who have a much more direct understanding of what a vital democracy requires.

3. The election outcomes are telling us that “character was on the ballot” and that an excess of 8 million citizens had had enough of the narcissism, incompetence and cruelty of the current incumbent.  This was a mandate to replace him with a seasoned public servant who is known for his decency and compassion,  as well as his decades of experience in our government. At the same time, many still voted for their preferred party for congress.  As frustrating as that may be for those who wanted a complete change from the partisan gridlock that follows, it is an affirmation of the way our democracy is designed to work – as a complex set of procedures designed to balance majority rule with the expression of  minority positions.  

One of the most inspiring examples of how sacred the right to vote is in this country, however divisive the campaigns have been, was the integrity and service of the thousands of volunteers who worked the polls to ensure that every vote was counted properly.  Ordinary citizens from every political background worked together, transcending their own preferences.  There were numerous news stories of the bipartisan friendships that developed during this time.  Equally as inspiring was the leadership demonstrated by Republican state governors in Michigan, South Carolina and Arizona who could not be bullied into destroying ballots or supporting unsubstantiated claims that the voting was fraudulent.  Governor after governor, election official after election official, could not be moved because they knew that their primary purpose was to protect our democracy, not get their party in office. 

4. I was particularly struck during the election coverage with how much data matters to us as a nation, especially in these times of suppression of the truth. We were given up-to-the minute data in a thrilling exposition of how each state works the electoral process.  Though we were well prepared by election analysts for the “red mirage’ that would occur due to the unprecedented use of mail-in ballots – e.g., each state’s choosing whether to count them first or last – It was a grueling exercise in patience as each state counted their votes.  Many of us have emerged with much greater faith in the process. Even now, as the current administration continues to claim fraud and obfuscate facts, there is greater trust that the system will work and a renewed understanding of both the features and the vulnerabilities of the constitutional system that was designed to help us “form a more perfect union.”  There is also a greater commitment on my part about staying closer to the process at a local level.

Now, as the nation with the greatest number of Covid cases and 20% of Covid deaths, when we only have 4% of the population, even the use of masks has been politicised.  It will be an enormous challenge to bring our people together to enact a unified approach.  It’s not that we don’t have the data to learn from, for the US and for much of the world  – we now can see how that everything we do matters – what we need to do now is support all of us to learn and adapt in real time, so we can work in accommodation with our national and state health situations as they evolve. In short, we need to effect a metamorphosis in our own collective thinking.  We need to find sustainable ways to expand  socioperception of all our citizens, especially those who feel helpless in the face of our uncertain future. 

We are fortunate to have the right leader as our president-elect Joe Biden. He has decades of experience working across the aisle with Republicans and Democrats. He is the most socioperceptive politician we’ve seen in awhile, with his single focus of practicing empathy, compassion and respect for our demogratic institutions to bring people together. He expresses a natural and explicit interest in serving all our citizens, not just those who voted for him, and he has demonstrated repeatedly that he knows what that will take. This is a leadership style that is so important now, with an authentic  humility that calls for  learning our way through these difficult times together.  

I have faith that our new administration will follow suit. I have seen that social perception breeds socioperception, Deep inclusion breeds deep inclusion.  Our leaders do indeed influence those who follow, and I pray that this compassion will touch hearts, dissolve fear and encourage  people to live by principle. It won’t happen right away and it will take every resource we have.  We are a painfully divided nation.  And the transformation needs to begin in each of us.  What I am finding in myself is that the question, “How in the world could THEY have voted that way?” is no longer an exasperated exclamation.  As I commit to the repair and reconciliation that is so desperately needed – and that our new president-elect is asking for – I find a newly emerging curiosity to make that a real question ”How indeed?” and to let the answers become known, so that we are divided no longer.  The Social Action Research question of “How do we do what we do when we are living and working well together?” has been immensely helpful in each conversation. And there are a number of us – artists, performers, philosophers, social change leaders – who are coming together throughout the US  to provide conversation spaces socioperception approaches for this to happen. 

Finally, in this election period, I have learned how much good company matters.  Through this whole experience, global colleagues have stayed personally in touch with us.  At times, it became clear that they were following the returns more closely than even some of our fellow citizens.  I know that this was not just concern for us, but also because what was happening would impact their lives so deeply, too. there is now a bond that has been created among us to know and to support each other in our search for wellbeing in each of our countries as well as in the world at large.   Since I have been learning about accommodation and social action research, I have discovered a new meaning for ‘organizational learning’… If ‘organization’ is indeed not the structures, but the flow of relationships that create value and wellbeing, then it is my concern to understand how those coherences work among us and balance the structures that enable that flow. My metamorphosis comes in that realization.