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Eureka: How democracy can function Eureka: How democracy can function
by Jay Gutman
2017-06-17 10:40:53
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Democracy can only function if people are used to speaking out publicly at a very young age. If you give microphones to people whose opinions have been repressed throughout their life, at school and in their work life, you will only get politicians who are a little too impressed when they get to talk.

democ01_400_01I was lucky enough to be allowed to speak out most of my life. When I was in 4th grade, my class teacher would spend the whole morning on Mondays hear us talk about our weekends and give our opinions on what we think we saw on television or heard people say. I went to schools where school delegates were elected and I was elected delegate 3 times and vice-delegate twice. I even got elected school student representative in high school in what was an open election with campaigns and debates, including an opponent who desperately tried to convince delegates to vote against me. His campaign failed, because I had promised I would try to survey all 176 students each time an important decision would be made by the school delegate, a promise I had kept. In fact, before and after my tenure, most school delegates tended to confuse their personal beliefs and opinions with those of the entire school.

My university life I was allowed to speak at various events, and was a member of the school television channel. I was however disappointed at the lack of discussion and debate, consultation and consensus at most of the workplaces I worked at. That’s when I discovered systems where in a lot of schools teachers don’t encourage students to speak up, even when it comes to asking questions. The very same university professors who call democracy the best system of governance only to punish students for not bowing to them when they see them, and give 3 hour lectures without ever being interrupted.

The idea is if school children are not encouraged to speak up, university students are not encouraged to speak up and people who work are not encouraged to speak out, husbands and wives are not encouraged to speak out, such societies will get elected officials who will be very impressed when standing in front of the microphone. Having had their opinions repressed throughout their lives, they will often try to force their way through legislation and will rarely consult with their constituency or with other elected officials before trying to implement resolutions or laws.

For democracy to fully function, you need most if not all of the country’s institutions, public and private, to function as democracies. You need such institutions to have leaders and representatives elected based on consensus, and need to have them have lengthy discussions before deciding legislation.

Perhaps one of my great disappointments in life was at a university student council where the presidential candidate who complained about the lack of democracy at the school tried to do everything he could to prevent any opposition from running against him. As a matter of principle, I teased the candidate by telling him that I would run against him, a move that made him angry. In the end my candidacy was not valid. I was still surprised to see the president often take unilateral decisions, almost forgetting that a few months earlier he had been complaining about the lack of democracy.

Democracy can be complicated to organize in spaces where authoritarianism is the norm. I once worked for a company where the leadership was totalitarian, which made it difficult for me to deliver products based on consumer choice and feedback. I was forced to hide the feedback, because in totalitarian organizations negative feedback is taken as an insult rather than a suggestion to improve the product. Eventually, lack of communication and consensus with the customers leads to unhappy voters or customers.

The bottom line is if you don’t allow children to constantly speak their mind, not about themselves and their physical appearance, but about their surroundings, you will end up having emotionally and ideologically repressed representatives who will only take unilateral decisions and will consult very little before taking decisions. People tend to be happier when they communicate well with their surroundings.

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