Americans love to talk about our rights.
We have a right to free speech. We have a right to free religious practice. We have a right to a free press. We have a right to remain silent and a right to an attorney. We have the right to bear arms and a right to equal treatment under the law. We may not always agree on where to draw the line when your rights bump up against mine, but we can damn well agree that we have the rights to begin with.
But what about responsibilities? Do citizens of a free and democratic republic have ANY obligations?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last few weeks, as we see a fresh new crop of legislators take up office. I believe it’s easy to forget sometimes that they’re our employees. Oh, sure. We like to complain that politicians get to city hall or the state capital or Congress or the White House and forget that they are supposed to be working for the people they represent.
But…if they’re supposed to be working for us, aren't we supposed to be managing them?
If there’s one thing more politically troubling than our abysmal voter turnout in this country, its the disengagement that citizens have once election season is over. Remarkably few Americans even know who their elected representatives are, as evidenced by the surge in “who is my congressman” Google searches any time something controversial happens. And of those who do know (however last-minute) who’s representing them, the number that have communicated with those representatives is much, much smaller.
It’s like we went out and hired a bunch of contractors, showed them a picture of a house and said “I’d like something sort of like this.” And then never spoke to them again.
Sure, you might have researched your elected representatives’ background and general policy positions, but that hardly answers the question of what he or she will do in every circumstance they’re presented with. You’d check your contractors too, but can you be sure they know you prefer hardwood to carpet? No. You have to TELL THEM.
Now, what I’m suggesting needn't be a full-time job. What I’d like you to do, is look up the phone number and email address of one of your elected officials at every level of government (local, state, and federal.) You likely have more than one elected representative, but let’s start with picking one.
Now, I’d like you to put that information in your phone contacts list.
Going forward, if there’s an issue that’s come up locally or nationally that you have questions or concerns about, call them or send an email. If they do something that you support, do the same (all employees like positive feedback, but politicians LOVE IT.) You probably won’t reach them directly, but their staff will take note of it and pass it along to their boss. And they may ultimately not do what you want them to do in every case, but good managers work to develop their staff, and you should too.